The UK’s Serious, Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) took down hip-hop news and track exchange website rnbxclusive.com yesterday as part of a criminal investigation into allegedly defrauding the music industry. The site started in 1998 and has since become a popular R&B and hip-hop blog online with over a quarter of a million fans on Facebook.
It appears the UK is following in the footsteps of previous US DHS/ICE seizures with one of their own. The process is less involved here though, with Nominet (who handle co.uk domains) usually just requiring a request from UK law enforcement to seize a domain, rarely with any court interaction during the process. This is, however, the first non-Nominet listed domain to be subjected to UK law enforcement action.
The owner of the website has been arrested and SOCA has replaced the usual content with an ominous page. According to PC Pro, the official line from the agency is the website was taken down because it breached the terms and conditions of its hosting provider but they refused to comment on who raised the original complaint. The same person also confirmed the IP address information was merely a warning, and admitted that is was not illegal to visit the website.
This is the first non-UK domain to be seized by UK law enforcement. It is likely various US agencies are aware of SOCA’s actions, but considering the DOJ and DHS claim .com domains are their jurisdiction, it's questionable if they would allow any foreign country to set precedence by seizing what they maintain are domestic domains.
There also appears to be some confusion with the following point made by SOCA: "The majority of music files that were available via this site were stolen from the artists. If you have downloaded music using this website you may have committed a criminal offence which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine under UK law."
Copyright infringement is not a criminal offence under UK law. Those doing so for personal use are subject to civil laws. It is only a criminal offence for those that distribute copyrighted materials illegally in a commercial manner and therefore does not apply to anyone visiting the site.
Displaying the IP address of your computer alongside the date and time of accessing it is somewhat confusing and suggesting that simply visiting this domain makes you liable to prosecution is a very strong point to make as well. SOCA’s copyright notice is a touch ironic though.
At the very bottom is a URL to pro-music.org which is a website promoted by rights holder lobby groups.