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Costa Rica complains of US govt harassment over Pirate Bay domain

Registry operator points finger at US embassy staffer

By Kieren McCarthy, 20 Jun 2017

The operator of Costa Rica's .cr internet registry has formally complained that it is being harassed by the US government over The Pirate Bay domain on its system.

In a letter [PDF] sent to the head of the Governmental Advisory Committee of DNS overseer ICANN, the president of the Costa Rican Academy of Science, Dr Pedro Leon Azofeifa, complains it has been at the end of "threats to close our registry, with repeated harassment regarding our practices ... and even personal negative comments directed to our executive director."

It notes that for two years, the US Embassy in Costa Rica "has frequently contacted our organization regarding the domain name thepiratebay.cr" and that the interactions have "escalated with time." It specifically names the embassy's economic specialist Kevin Ludeke as being the source of much of the harassment.

The letter details numerous phone calls, emails and meetings during which it has been told to take down the domain name "even though this would go against our domain name policies," and says that at one point the embassy went over its head and asked the Costa Rican Ministry of Commerce to carry out an investigation into why it refused to take down the domain name.

The ministry did carry out an investigation – and found that the registry was indeed following its rules that require a local court order to take down a domain name.

IP arm

The letter provides an insight into just how far the US government is willing to go in response to constant pressure from intellectual property lawyers representing content producers in the United States. It also explains why so many other registries have deleted Pirate Bay domain names from their systems.

As far as American IP interests are concerned, The Pirate Bay is the devil incarnate. It is the most widely known website that hosts bittorrent files, which enable internet users to grab illicit copies of movies, music and software stored on servers all over the world.

Earlier this month in a landmark decision, the European Court of Justice decided that The Pirate Bay legally infringes copyright – even though it doesn't host the infringing files itself – because it offers a search engine for those files, as well as categorizes them by genre, type and popularity, and deletes faulty files, all while seeking to make a profit.

"The operators of The Pirate Bay cannot be unaware that this platform provides access to works published without the consent of the rightholders," the court decided – opening the doors to legal challenges that will likely see ISPs in Europe obliged to block access to the site.

But while IP interests and US government pressure have led to The Pirate Bay being banned and blocked in large parts of the world, the organization has continued to use the diverse DNS ecosystem to stay one step ahead of the lawyers.

The Pirate Bay has long since stopped registering domains whose registries are under contract with US-based ICANN, because IP interests have played a significant role in writing ICANN's domain policies and so can quickly shut the sites down.

ccTLDs

As such, The Pirate Bay has registered a slew of domains with so-called country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) that are a part of the larger ICANN organization but act according to their own rules and policies.

Among the domains registered were the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (.gs), Armenia (.am) and Greenland (.gl). But all of those were shut down, presumably following US government pressure similar to what Costa Rica has had to deal with.

Meanwhile, the domains for Grenada (.gd), Laos (.la), the British Virgin Islands (.vg) and Mongolia (.mn) are not live but all redirect to the main thepiratebay.org website. That website has been up and down repeatedly over the past two years, pointing to some kind of ongoing fight behind the scenes at .org operator Public Interest Registry.

There is also an ongoing battle at the Swedish registry over thepiratebay.se which is currently sitting with the Swedish Supreme Court after a long legal back-and-forth. That .se domain also redirects to the (currently down) .org domain.

As a result, as of the time of writing, the only The Pirate Bay website that is up and running on the global DNS is... Costa Rica's thepiratebay.cr. Which explains why it has been the target of such aggressive tactics. The Pirate Bay may have seen the writing on the wall however, and users are increasingly using its online presence on the "dark web," available through the Tor browser.

It is highly unusual for a registry operator to complain formally and publicly to ICANN, particularly its Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). The letter also comes just a week before ICANN's meeting in Johannesburg later this month.

It's not clear what the GAC can or will do in response to the letter, especially given the powerful position of the United States government within the GAC. But with the US government having officially given away its oversight of ICANN late last year, it could prove to be an opportunity for other governments to assert their new equity by embarrassing or criticizing the US government over its efforts to pressure an internet registry to remove a domain name. ®

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