A year ago, we wrote about the indictment in the Eastern District of Virginia of the executives and founders of Megaupload, one of the leading file-hosting sites on the Web. The charges were copyright infringement through the facilitation of piracy of copyrighted materials, money-laundering, and conspiracy. The site was shuttered after the indictment.
The case quickly got tied up in the U.S. Justice Department’s effort to extradite Kim Dotcom, Megaupload’s chief founder, from New Zealand, where he lives. After a series of setbacks, the DOJ just won a victory before a New Zealand appeals court. The extradition hearing is set for August 2013.
The issue before the appeals court was how much information the DOJ was required to turn over to Dotcom before the hearing. One of Megaupload’s defenses is that its activities were protected by the “safe harbor” provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects Internet service providers from copyright liability for the activities of people who merely use their Web sites.
Dotcom wanted the DOJ to turn over, in advance of the hearing, information that it had about possible copyright infringement on the site – in other words, a good deal of the government’s evidence. Reversing a lower court, the New Zealand appeals court held that the DOJ need not turn over much of this material at this point.
“If a suspect was entitled to demand disclosure of all relevant documents on the basis that he or she wished to challenge not the reliability of the summarised evidence but rather the inferences that the requesting state seeks to draw from it,” the court wrote, then the extradition hearing process would not work properly. Rather, the suspect is entitled to a summary of the evidence but not to the government’s entire case at this juncture.
It thus appears that Dotcom will be able to get access to the DOJ’s entire case and to mount a full defense only if he is extradited to the United States and faces a criminal trial. But in order to hold such a trial, the DOJ will need to make a prima facie case at the extradition hearing, which Dotcom will be allowed to rebut, that Dotcom is guilty of the charged offenses. The appeals court said that this hearing will only involve a “limited weighing of evidence” and that the DOJ is entitled to some deference as to its reliability.
We have said before that this is a highly dubious prosecution. We are confident that despite this setback, Dotcom will get a full chance to present his case before an impartial tribunal.
We have previously reported in this space about the use of domain name seizures by American law enforcement – for example, here and here. Recent media reports show that domain name seizure has become the go-to tactic for law enforcement for other countries as well.
Canadian police made a series of arrests during an invitation-only Super Bowl party attended by 2300 people as part of Project Amethyst. A Royal Canadian Mounted Police spokesperson says this was connected with the arrest of 21 individuals related to a separate online credit betting operation in November. The more recent arrests were connected with an online sports betting operation that used the website located at www.platinumsb.com. In addition to arresting six individuals, officers also seized $2.5 million in cash as a result of the execution of nine search warrants in and around Toronto.
Police also seized the domain name associated with a Costa Rica-based website, which is registered with Washington State-based Enom, Inc. Police obtained a Canadian court order for that purpose, and then submitted a request under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) between Canada and the United States. The domain name was then transferred to the control of Canadian law enforcement authorities who, in turn, redirected it to a new landing page. Visitors to the platinumsb.com website are now greeted by a notice stating that the web site has been “restrained by court order granted to the Attorney General of Ontario.”
Media reports indicate that the website was back online as www.platinumsb.tk within hours of the shutdown. The .tk top level domain belongs to Tokelau, a non-self-governing territory off the coast of New Zealand. The .tk version of the domain name was reportedly registered in 2004, suggesting that the group operating the sports book had set up contingency plans for a seizure of its .com website.
Whatever the merits of the Canadian prosecution against individuals affiliated with PlatinumSB, the seizure of the platinumsb.com domain name certainly shows that domain name seizure is by no means a tactic used only by U.S. law enforcement. As more and more businesses move largely or exclusively to the Internet, the global use of this law enforcement tactic is sure to grow.
On October 23, 2012, the European Commission will unveil a series of initiatives and actions that it plans to put into effect relating to online gaming with the overall goal of providing a better framework for online gambling services in the European Union.
One of the main problems that the European Commission is facing is the differences in rules and regulations among member nations governing online gambling. Currently, no EU legislation specifically applies to the online gambling industry, which generated $13.7 billion in earnings in the EU in 2010.
Sigrid Ligne, Secretary General of the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA), which represents companies offering online betting games, has said that this is an excellent opportunity for Europe as a whole to offer strong consumer protection in the gaming arena.
Ligne has said, “We deplore the situation today where we see 27 ‘mini-markets’ for gambling in Europe. We are calling for the introduction of European rules to ensure proper protection for consumers and maintain a crime-free environment throughout the EU, while affording open, fair, and transparent licensing conditions for EU-regulated operators.”
Private online gambling operators have expressed frustration with the EC for not forcing member states to open their online gambling markets. According to EU treaties, any business should be able to sell products and services in the EU countries as easily as it does in its own local market. The EGBA has accused the Commission of “failing in its role as guardian of the treaties” by not requiring member states to apply EU treaty rules in the online gambling sector.
Several European national governments, however, have opposed broader EU legislation because they want to protect betting monopolies that generate significant revenues for the state. The EGBA was hoping that the Commission would develop model legislation for its member states, but the Commission stated in June that it would only be developing an action plan at this stage, despite demands from the European Parliament for legislation. The action plan is expected to set out the Commission’s plan in the areas of consumer protection, fraud prevention and sporting integrity. The Commission could still develop legislative proposals in the future.
The EGBA has announced that it will file a complaint against Germany in the near future because its gambling law does not meet the criteria set forth by the EU Court of Justice or the concerns that the Commission raised. The EGBA has said the Germany’s procedure for granting licenses has led to the exclusion of non-German operators in violation of EU treaty rules. The law, which was ratified by 15 of the 16 German states in June, will only allow a limited number of sports-betting licenses and does not allow for online poker licenses. The Commission had been critical of Germany’s gambling law in the past, but gave Germany some time to test the rules before it intervened.
The EGBA is also challenging the Belgian gaming law that has been in place since January 2012, which it argues is an “opaque and protectionist system.” The EC has yet to rule on the challenge.
Time will tell what the European Union action plan will look like, but we think the European Union should strive for universal legislation across states. Universal legislation will allow for greater quality and consistency in games offered to consumers and allow for gaming operators to be more efficient in the delivery of their product by only having to focus on one set of regulations.
Eight months seems a harsh sentence for a juror who made some ill-considered Facebook posts. Harsh, that is, until you hear the facts. The proceeding against U.K. resident Joanne Fraill is one of the first contempt prosecutions ever against a juror for improper Internet use. And the punishment she received is a reminder that, when pushed, courts have both the power and the will to protect the integrity of the jury system and the rights of criminal defendants to a fair trial.
On June 16, 2011, Fraill was found in contempt of court for improper communications and Internet research she conducted while serving as a juror in a criminal trial. The case involved four defendants who had been charged with drug-related offenses, including Jamie Sewart and her boyfriend, Gary Knox.
The day after jurors acquitted Sewart, while the case was still pending against her three co-defendants, Fraill contacted Sewart on Facebook. Using the pseudonym “Jo Smilie,” Fraill messaged, “You should know me, I’ve cried with you enough.” Sewart replied and asked about a charge against one of her co-defendants. Fraill answered that “no one [on the jury was] budging.” Fraill then asked Sewart not to disclose their communications because “they could call mmiss trial [sic] and I will get 4cked to0.” Minutes later, Fraill told Sewart, “Dont worry about that chge no way it can stay hung for me lol.” The chat log further disclosed that the two had been communicating in court with nods and blinks.
The following day, Sewart told her attorney about the incident. When confronted, Fraill admitted that she had contacted Sewart to discuss the case and that she had searched the Internet for information about a shooting that involved defendant Knox.
In previous blog posts, we have considered the extent to which jurors should be restricted from Internet use during trial. The proliferation of iPads and smartphones raises difficult questions about how best to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial while minimizing the burdens of jury service. But some cases are beyond the pale.
Fraill’s conduct seems indefensible for several reasons. First, Fraill understood the judge’s restrictions on case-related communications, and she took an oath promising not to research any aspect of the case on her own. Moreover, the chat log makes clear that she understood the potential consequences of juror misconduct. Indeed, Fraill knew that, if discovered, her conduct could result in a mistrial and that she could be punished for it. Nonetheless, Fraill blatantly disregarded the judge’s instructions.
If Fraill’s conduct were not bad enough on its own, other details seem to make it worse. The 10-week trial against Sewart and her codefendants was the third of four attempts by the prosecution to try the case. By the time Fraill was placed on the third jury, the case had already imposed considerable costs on Britain’s taxpayers and court system. Ultimately, the case involved 10,000 pages of evidence, 500 witnesses, 14 lawyers, and five juries over 160 days in court. More costs will be imposed as defendants, like Knox, appeal their convictions based on Fraill’s Facebook posts.
Given the context, Fraill’s eight-month sentence does not seem patently outrageous. Fraill’s extraordinary misconduct left the court little choice but to make an example of her.
When the Commonwealth of Kentucky petitioned the Franklin Circuit County Court to seize www.fulltiltpoker.com, Pocket Kings Limited, asked a U.K Chancery Court to injoin FTP’s registrar, Safenames Limited, from complying with the Kentucky trial court order. In an order dated October 22, 2009, the Chancery Court granted Pocket King’s request and declared that Safenames shall not comply with any present or future seizure order from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. See Safenames-Judgment. The Court also ordered the Commonwealth of Kentucky to pay Pocket Kings for legal fees incurred in bringing the petition. See Safenames Signed Order.