Anyone who has watched a sporting event on TV has heard something along the lines of, “Any other use of this telecast or of any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without express written consent is prohibited.”
The message is relatively simple: This broadcast is a product, our product, and we are the only people allowed to show it. (We did, after all, and pay a pretty penny for it.)
But things have gotten infinitely more complicated in the past few years, both because the money involved in television rights has swelled, and because the methods of disseminating games have grown right along with it.
The technological challenges posed by the world of Internet streaming are very evident to Bill Ross, unit chief of the National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We understand that a lot of the sites will come back up under other names,” Ross said. “So we try to monitor the sites we take down and determine if they come back up. We are aware of them, and we do what we can to try to maintain the enforcement of them.”
Maintaining enforcement is a logistical nightmare. For starters, many sites that offer streams, or that offer links to streams that can be found elsewhere (also deemed illegal), have back-up URLs, allowing the sites to remain operational even if seized.
This happened with “rojadirecta,” one of the most popular streaming sites on the Web. During the pre-Super Bowl strike, rojadirecta.com and rojadirecta.org were seized by ICE. However, that did nothing to stop people from accessing the exact same content at rojadirecta.me, rojadirecta.es or rojadirecta.pl.
Therefore, seizing a URL or two is akin to setting up a roadblock — you can choke off one route, but there are other streets to take. And most of these websites aren’t on Internet cul-de-sacs; there are multiple ways in and out.
Which harkens back to something that John Morton, assistant secretary at ICE, said when In Our Sites was launched last year: “We will seize the Web sites, prosecute the owners, forfeit the illegal proceeds. If a site reappears, so will we. If the criminals move overseas, we will follow.”
Powerful words, indeed. But when asked about this declaration, Jared Moya, an editor at the Internet news site Zero Paid, dubbed it nothing but rhetoric.
“It was pure hyperbole,” Moya told TechNewsWorld. “Not only is reregistering sites easy, but it illustrates how fruitless the effort really is. Nervous admins can even preregister their sites with the developer so that in the case of seizure the transition is seamless.”
In other words, sites have ready-made detours. And the authorities know it.
“It is in essence a cat and mouse game,” said the IPR Center’s Ross. “We go after them, and they find new ways to evade us. Every time we do an operation, we learn stuff and we try to modify our techniques to combat people out there violating the laws. We think that what we’re doing is making some effect. We fully understand that we’re not stopping IP crime on the Internet, and we’ll never do that. But we feel that we are making an effect and we’ll keep moving forward with it.”
Servers Still in Service
The particular URLs don’t matter, because sites like rojadirecta are run from servers, not URLs. Unless the server is seized, the site can keep running under a different name. And with Twitter, Facebook and Google, promoting the new location is easy. There’s even an add-on from Mozilla Firefoxthat automatically redirects users to the new site if the old one is moved or seized.
Tellingly, when Torrent Freak Founder Ernesto Van der Sar wrote an article about the Super Bowl crackdown, readers littered the comments section with tips on where to find the new sites.
“They can take some domain names,” Van der Sar said, “but if the server is hosted in, say, Denmark, it’s very hard for the U.S. government to take it down. They have no jurisdiction there.”
This is another thorn in the side of law enforcement: jurisdiction. There are parts of the Internet that do not fall within the purview of ICE. And things get a little fuzzy when an American football game is being streamed on a European website and watched in someplace like, oh, Jinan, China.