Even without passing new legislation regulating what Americans can and can’t do on the Web, recently unsealed court records reveal that federal authorities took down a music website for one year without ever filing charges.
A federal court in Los Angeles has released documents relating to a case against a music site, Dajaz1.com, that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) took offline back in 2010. At the time, government investigators insisted that the popular hip-hop blog was linking visitors to external pages that hosted unauthorized recordings of copyrighted material that users could download for free. For over a year, the website was rendered unavailable as its administrator became embroiled in a legal debate over alleged infringement charges. Now that a judge has unsealed the “evidence” against the site, it is clear that there was never a case.
What the government did have, however, was a cooperative relationship with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Under the demand of one of the largest trade organizations in the entertainment industry — that’s coincidently also one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington — the US Justice System bowed to the RIAA’s orders to suppress the site’s webmaster for publishing any content without ever being able to charge him with a crime.
At the request of Wired, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the First Amendment Coalition, a federal judge has released the facts of the case that prosecutors never could get off the ground. Speaking to Wired, EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn insists that the government’s attempt to ground the blog was merely bought by the RIAA. For 13 months, the judge time and time again granted government agents extensions to try and build a case against the blog, but despite having over a year to effort enough evidence to file charges, neither federal agents nor the RIAA could ever prove that they were in the right.
In the meantime, the website’s owner was essentially stripped of his First Amendment rights.
“Here you have ICE making a seizure, based on the say-so of the record company guys, and getting secret extensions as they wait for their masters, the record companies, for evidence to prosecute,” Cohn tells Wired this week. “This is the RIAA controlling a government investigation and holding it up for a year.”