Adding some swashbuckling to its tough talk on fighting piracy, the federal government Wednesday seized several websites that were offering downloads of pirated movies such as "Toy Story 3" and "Iron Man 2" within hours of their release in theaters.
Federal authorities announced that they had seized domain names from nine websites engaged in the "criminal theft of American movies and television." The websites include TVShack.net, PlanetMoviez.com and ThePirateCity.org and Ninjavideo.net. The sites combined drew 6.7 million visitors a month, authorities said.
Officials also seized assets from 15 bank, investment and advertising accounts and executed residential search warrants in North Carolina, New York, New Jersey and Washington, according to a statement from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which coordinated its investigation with the Southern District of New York, the Department of Homeland Security and various other agencies.
The crackdown, which involved 100 agents working in 11 states and the Netherlands, is part of a renewed campaign dubbed "Operation in Our Sites" by the feds to curb Internet counterfeiting and piracy. The announcement comes a week after the Obama administration unveiled a detailed plan on how to tackle global piracy, including targeting illegal websites.
ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton, speaking at a Walt Disney Studios soundstage where he was joined by movie studio executives and union representatives, trumpeted the bust as the beginning of a "long-term effort to turn the tables on these thieves." The targeted websites, he added, are "run by people who have no respect for creativity and innovation."
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement that the actions were necessary to protect the jobs and livelihoods of "ordinary working people" and warned others involved in similar websites. The studios claim that they lose hundreds of millions of dollars annually to pirated content.
"If your business model is piracy, your story will not have a happy ending," Bharara said.