Until a few weeks ago, Brian McCarthy ran a website, channelsurfing.net, that linked to various sites where you could watch online streams of TV shows and sports networks. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized his domain name in late January. All you'll find there now is a "This domain has been seized" warning, complete with a screeching eagle dive-bombing your face as he clutches a banner that reads "Protection is our trademark."
Then, in an unprecedented move, on Friday they arrested McCarthy and charged him with criminal copyright infringement -- punishable by five years in prison.
Demand Progress just obtained a copy of the complaint that DHS and ICE made against him: they do not even allege that he made a copy of anything. Just that he ran what they call a "linking website" which linked to various sites with infringing material.
Based on my participation in the investigation leading to the February 2011 Seizure, I know that Channelsurfing.net was a "linking" website. Based on my training and experience, I know that "linking" websites generally collect and catalog links to files on third party websites...
Prosecution for secondary liability -- linking to a site that houses infringing materials -- is without precedent. Under the logic that governs the arrest, any Internet user who sends around a link to a copyrighted YouTube video -- or posts such a link on their personal blog -- is a criminal. This new enforcement regime is certain to have a chilling effect across the Internet.
The arrest represents yet another shocking overreach by DHS and ICE, whose policing of the Internet is growing ever more heavy-handed. We need to push back -- and fast -- before they try to lock up more Americans. Having accidentally seized 84,000 domains last month, it's clear that the agencies don't understand the operations of the Internet well enough to be in charge of policing it.