It's Cyber Monday, that magical day when thrifty holiday shoppers can get the same sort of outrageous discounts that visitors to brick-and-mortar stores get on Black Friday.
Today, while shoppers have been snatching goodies off the virtual shelves, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has been snatching retail Web domains right off the Internet.
As part of a program called Operation In Our Sites, ICE's National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR), the Department of Justice, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation seized 150 Website domain names that were illegally selling and distributing counterfeit merchandise.
That's quite a haul. At this time last year, Operation In Our Sites shut down only 82 domains. (Since its launch in June 2010, the IPR has seized 350 domain names.)
To identify the offending sites, undercover federal law enforcement agents purchased products from suspicious domains. Then, as the ICE press release says, "If the trademark holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold the goods were obtained from federal magistrate judges."
The full list of 150 seized domains can be found here. Although the number of sites is rather large, the variety of counterfeited trademarks is quite small. The lion's share of the sites were selling sports jerseys with counterfeit NFL, NHL, and MLB trademarks. Others sold knockoff Louis Vuitton handbags, Puma and Reebok sneakers, and the Enterprise Efficiency community's favorite, Ugg boots.
Actually, we don't think the E2 community is full of boot-lovers drooling over cheap Uggs... but someone certainly does. We don't get a lot of spam on our E2 message boards, but when we do, it's almost always spam that tries to sell discount Ugg boots. The good news is that Operation In Our Sites seized some sites selling counterfeit Uggs. The bad news is that none of those sites were the ones our diligent E2 spammers use.
Visitors to the seized domains are now redirected to seizedservers.com, which states the domain has been seized and warns the user of the legal perils of copyright infringement.
The good news is that this operation helps retailers fight copyright infringement and piracy. The bad news is that your site might be put on the seized server list. It's unlikely, but this year, ICE seized two Spanish domains that had previously been declared legal by the Spanish government. The two sites were sports-related, and though they didn't host any illegal content, they did link to other sites that offered unauthorized streaming of games.
Although the Spanish government had said the sites were operating legally, ICE took the position that it has authority over all .com domain names, regardless of where the owner is based, due to the location of the .com registry.
So tell us, retail CIOs, do you think this operation has helped your business, or is it just a tiny drop in the bucket? Have you reported any sites that illegally sell your merchandise or counterfeit versions of it? Do you truly harbor a desperate desire for Ugg boots?
To report IP theft, head to IPRCenter.gov.