Watching the big game on your computer could become a thing of the past. Federal investigators shut down 10 of the most popular website that broadcast sporting events live.
Specials agents for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations issued seizure warrants to ATDHE.NET, CHANNELSURFING.NET, HQ-STREAMS.COM, HQSTREAMS.NET, FIRSTROW.NET, ILEMI.COM, IILEMI.COM, IILEMII.COM, ROJADIRECTA.ORG and ROJADIRECTA.COM.
These particular websites linked users to other websites that host pirated sporting and pay-per-view events. They gained poplarity because of their convenience and reliability. They allow sports fans to quickly browse content and locate games that would otherwise be more difficult to find.
However, the leagues own the copyrights to the games.
"This swift action by our HSI New York special agents and analysts sends a clear message to website operators who mistakenly believe it's worth the risk to take copyrighted programming and portray it as their own," ICE Director John Morton said, according to a statement issued by ICE.
Morton said this investigation is about protecting legitmate businesses. The National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, World Wrestling Entertainment, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship lost potential revenue every time someone chose to view a sporting event through one of these websites rather than attending the game in person or paying to view it on TV through pay-per-view.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara went a step further. She said the potential revenue those businesses lost has a rippledown effect which hurts all sports fans.
"The illegal streaming of professional sporting events over the Internet deals a financial body blow to the leagues and broadcasters who are forced to pass their losses off to the fans in the form of higher priced tickets and pay-per-view events," Bharara said (according to a statement issued by ICE).
The sites still exist, but now look a lot different.
The home pages have been replaced by a vibrant banner with three law enforcement seals across the top and a clear message on the bottom. The message advises them that the New York office of ICE HSI seized the domain name because of criminal copyright violation.
The new banners is just the start. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York wants the webmasters to forfeit their domain names, shutting down the sites for good.
Law enforcement officials picked this week to shut down the sites for a reason. The Superbowl, the most-watched sporting event of the year, is this Sunday. ICE wants to make sure football fans who planned on going online to watch the big game turn to legitamate broadcasters instead. They also want to make sure no other thieves have time to launch and promote similar sites.
"With the Super Bowl just days away, the seizures of these infringing websites reaffirm our commitment to working with our law enforcement partners to protect copyrighted material and put the people who steal it out of business," Bharara said.
Some of these website became extremely popular in Tampa Bay this past fall. When the NFL blacked out Buccaneers games due to low ticket sales at Raymond James Stadium, fans turned to their computers. They watched the home games from home through these websites.
Sometimes, they were able to watch the games at bars. The NFL issued warnings to those bars that feed the website video to their big screen TVs.
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