Escalating the war on piracy: domain names

Root servers

There have been several reports about the next stage in the War on Piracy (must avoid making off-topic comments about the inherent stupidity of declaring armed hostilities against abstract concepts). I am talking of course about “Operation In Our Sites” (must not comment about some poor smug bureaucrat who thought the pun was funny). This new project from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is designed to execute domain name seizure warrants against websites engaged in movie piracy. In other words, ICE will ask a court to issue a warrant against these websites, and these will have their domain names removed.

How is it possible to remove a domain name you may ask? The clue is in the structure of internet governance of domain names. ICANN, the governing body coordinating the international domain name system, is a private corporation with ties to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Because of this, a court order delivered in the United States against a registrar can knock out a domain name by re-assigning it in the domain name system. This action will not remove the server from the internet, but it will disassociate the IP address of the web server where the site is hosted with the domain name people use to access it. If the site is not hosted in the United States, then it is possible that it will remain working, but it will be slightly more difficult for people to find it.

What is the effect of the seizure? Say you type the name of one of the affected sites in your browser (say,, you will get a screen with a copyright warning and nothing else. The site will still be hosted in its server, but the world has no way of knowing this IP address. Perhaps it will be shared through blogs, mailing lists and other viral means, but it will not be found through search engines.

This is a tremendously effective strategy in the short-term, but it is doomed to failure in the long-term. The main thing is that these sites have not been completely taken off the internet, they are still hosted somewhere. It is possible that these sites may be driven to darknets and other services that do not necessarily rely on the DNS system. But what is more likely to happen is that other services will spring up to carry the slack. What cannot be underestimated is the fickle nature of file-sharers, they will move on to a new site as soon as the last one was shut down.

Comments 3

  1. I'm wondering if this is effective as long as corresponding IP addresses are not seized. As this seizing approach becomes more popular, it's not tremendously difficult to build any foolproof website or search portal to publish the IPs of the seizure-likely web hosts, without using DNS at all. And these referral sites or services would not in any way be in violation of any law, including DRM.

    But I don't think the ICANN could do the same for ccTLDs (e.g. .hu, .uk etc.) The ICANN does refer to breach of contract by the registrars for enabling registrations without proper names, but ccTLD managers (ccTLD registries) are not registrars, and to me it seems that ICANN could only either wholly terminate the agreement with the ccTLD manager or do nothing. Technically, I'm sure ICANN could somehow overwrite replies to ccTLD resolution queries as long as those queries come from parties outside the ccTLD manager's scope. But this would be in violation of agreements for e.g. the registry of EU TLD. (.TV and other ccTLD registries managed by US companies are quite a different treat as we have already seen.)

    We shall see…

Leave a Reply