Did US Ask Philippines to Kill KAT.ph?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/14/2013 03:38:00 PM
News site Torrent Freak, "[t]he place where breaking news, BitTorrent and copyright collide" believes so, at least. Coming from the Philippines, I've always wondered whether to be proud or ashamed that the world's top torrent sites have had .ph top-level domains [TLDs] at one time or another. I recall the now-defunct private tracker site Demonoid being "located" in the Philippines. Sometime later, the world's second largest torrent site, Kick Ass Torrents also "moved" to the Philippines [KAT.ph].

As someone with--ahem--professional interest in the operation of torrent sites as working examples of the underground economy, the recent disappearance of KAT.ph intrigued me. Despite the Philippine passage of the Data Privacy Act in the middle of last year, it was curious to me how KAT.ph continued to operate with impunity after adopting its Philippine domain in April of 2011. But lo and behold, Philippine music industry figures supposedly argued that they were being hurt by KAT.ph's nefarious activities and the government was compelled to shut down the URL only yesterday...
Yesterday the torrent site ran into trouble with its KAT.ph domain, and there were signs suggesting the domain was no longer in control of the original owners. Over the past few hours more details have emerged, and the Government of the Philippines has now confirmed that the domain name has been seized on copyright grounds.

The seizure is the result of a complaint filed by the Philippine Association of the Recording Industry and several individual music labels. The complaint stated that KickassTorrents was causing “irreparable damages” to the music industry, and a local court agreed to suspend the site’s domain. “The complaint alleges that the registrant of KAT.ph is violating intellectual property rights by making copyrighted music available for download to its users,” the dotPH registry informed TorrentFreak. 
To be clear, the Philippine industry complaint was filed in December 2011, but Philippine authorities were only able to act after a court order was issued to do so...
Early this week the Philippine Intellectual Property Office issued a temporary restraining Order directing the dotPH registry to suspend the KAT.ph domain for 72 hours. The order, signed by the IPO Bureau of Legal Affairs, will become final if the domain owners don’t appeal. According to dotPH, the company that maintains the database of PH domain names, the music industry first complained about KickassTorrents in 2011.

However, the company said at the time that it would only take action following a court order. “dotPH was initially contacted by the complainants’ lawyers in December of 2011 with a demand to take down the domain, and dotPH agreed to cooperate if provided with an order from a court or appropriate authority,” TorrentFreak was informed. “dotPH received the restraining order earlier this week and subsequently suspended kat.ph in compliance with IPO’s directive,” the registry adds. 
As with most of these things where "Internet," "intellectual property" and "enforcement" are mentioned, there is natural suspicion that the United States is involved in pressuring the Philippines via inclusion in the US Trade Representative's watch list. To be clear, the Philippines has long been on this list, but more for the piracy of fake DVDs as opposed to "hosting" a rogue site (KAT.ph). There were earlier hopes that the Philippines would be struck off the 2013 edition after cracking down on physical distribution of pirated media, but officials were disappointed when it was not. See here:
The government expressed surprise and disappointment over the decision of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to retain the Philippines on its watch list of countries that violate intellectual-property rights (IPR) due to concerns over Internet piracy.

[Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHIL) Director General] Blancaflor noted the “changing requirements” of the USTR for removal from the watch list of IPR violators. “The USTR has no intention of removing the Philippines from the watch list. Every year the requirements change and vary. How can we be removed if the requirements keep changing?” he asked. “Two years ago it was massive counterfeits. We addressed that with record-breaking volume of seizures. We were not removed then. Last year the US complained that we did not pass the Internet treaty law. We passed it on March 22,” Blancaflor said.
Anyway, back to TorrentFreak on US pressure for Philippine action against KAT.ph:
While the case is presented as a local action aimed at preventing piracy of original Filipino music, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if U.S. forces have also been applying pressure. In its latest Special 301 Report the U.S. Government listed the Philippines on its copyright “watch list,” demanding further action against so-called rogue sites.

“The United States looks to the Philippines to take important steps to address piracy over the Internet, in particular with respect to notorious online markets,” the Office of the United States Trade Representative wrote in its report.
I suspect the Philippine authorities are still keen on having the country removed from the watch list given the efforts it has undertaken in passing the aforementioned law and continually raiding vendors of pirated DVDs. With legal backing through a court ruling to seize KAT.ph, its fate was pretty much sealed given the changing nature of American IP requests..

In the broader scheme of things, however, does it really matter? KAT is now operating with another TLD, business as usual. So, the US may have successfully bullied Philippine authorities, but the piracy goes on unabated as most users will eventually find the new site. And if that's taken down eventually, well, the game just moves on and on across even more TLDs. Montenegro, perhaps?