Major Labels

Court: Gov’t Shut Down Urban Music Site Without Even Investigating RIAA Claims

Dajaz1-logoIn a case that combines the concepts of "guilty until proven innocent" and "government capture," a recent release of court documents reveals that the seizure of by Federal authorities, which shut down the business for 13 months, was based on claims by the RIAA that were never supported by evidence sufficient to result in a trial.

Though this blatant abuse of due process by the U.S. government in concert with private industry is being addressed to some degree by the media and civil rights organizations, with Wired and the Electronic Frontier Foundation taking the lead, many are treating it like a passing news item, not recognizing that a repeated pattern of abuse does not end on its own.

As Wired reports, LA federal court records related to the seizure of the domain by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were unsealed last weak at the joint request of Wired, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the First Amendment Coalition.

The Dajaz1 website domain was seized as part of ICE's ongoing, multiphase Operation In Our Sites which is focused on copyrighted and counterfeited content distributed illegally via the Internet. Dajaz1 was seized for linking to four pre-release music tracks which the site's owner says were provided by artists and individuals associated with the labels the RIAA was said to represent.  This action shut down website operations for 13 months.

Based on the released court documents, ICE took their actions on the say-so of the RIAA without enough evidence to go to trial. Given that the domain was released and the site allowed to resume operation in December, this is an admission that they did not have a case to begin with and that, in effect, Dajaz1 is innocent.

If government operatives are willing to seize property without actionable evidence based on the word of an industry association, the RIAA, and if our current President is appointing their lawyers to the Justice Department, then we seem to have gone beyond the notion of "Government Capture" in which American corporations "have the power to control the rules under which they function and to direct the allocation of public resources."  They are apparently developing the ability to direct not only the allocation of public resources but the action of enforcement agencies.

In addition, the operation was handled by a secret court:

"ICE didn’t provide any additional details to Dajaz1 or its users, nor did it ever press criminal charges, file a complaint, or give the site operators the opportunity to contest the seizure. Instead, the ICE lawyers told Dajaz1’s lawyers that it had obtained a series of secret extensions. Because they were kept secret, Dajaz1 had no way to challenge them. ICE finally released the domain name in December of 2011, again with no explanation. The entire court record for the case remained under seal for nearly a year and a half."

ICE Spokesperson Ross Feinstein maintains that "government officials had followed all proper procedures in the case of Dajaz1." However he did not clarify at what point in American history guilty until proven innocent and secret proceedings became "proper procedures."

As the lawyer for Dajaz1, Andrew P. Bridges, stated to the NY Times, "his client 'appreciates' the case being dropped" but:

"That exoneration…did not remedy the harms caused by a full year of censorship and secret proceedings — a form of ‘digital Guantánamo’ — that knocked out an important and popular blog devoted to hip-hop music and has nearly killed it."

As the EFF notes:

"Having goaded the government into an outrageous and very public seizure of the blog, the RIAA members refused to follow up and answer the government’s questions. In turn, the government acted shamefully, not returning the blog or apologizing for its apparent mistake, but instead secretly asking the court to extend the seizure and deny Dajaz1 the right to seek return of its property or otherwise get due process. The government also refused to answer Congressional questions about the case."

Not only did ICE refuse to answer questions posed by politicians who are said to represent the citizenry but, in addition:

"the government muzzled – denying the blog’s author the right to speak and the public’s right to read what was published there – and then compounded matters by claiming extreme secrecy and blocking the Dajaz1 and the public’s access to information about the case."

As the EFF also points out, the government should have evaluated the evidence before taking action. It's called investigating crimes before bringing charges.

This is a disturbing situation, one which most citizens are likely to write off as another news blip rather than recognizing that once one segment of the population loses the fundamental right to due process, everyone's rights are endangered.

As the saying goes, this appalling situation is "much bigger than hip hop."

The released court documents are available via the Electronic Frontier Foundation and TechDirt.

Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith blogs about business at Flux Research: Business & Revenue Models and maintains an audio blog at To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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