8maple.ru was an illegal website that used overseas hosts to provide pirated videos from various countries. It boosted unspecified viewers and had even ranked first in terms of traffic among Taiwan’s similar websites. In April of 2020, Taoyuan District Prosecutors’ Office commanded the Telecommunications Investigation Corp of Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) to crack down and seize 8maple.ru. This was the first seizure of website and domain name that had happened in Taiwan’s criminal procedure practice. Hereunder are two feasible means to seize website and domain name under the current legal system.
To seize the infringing websites and their hosts, Taiwan police can identify operators behind the scene through investigative procedures and seize their computers and mobile phones according to Articles 122 and 133 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The police, by virtue of digital interrogation, search and investigation, can obtain administrative privileges to the websites, such as accounts and passwords, so that they may shut down the infringing website or replace the cover page thereof. The actual implementation of this method, however, has its difficulties as these websites are often set up on cloud systems, and the infringer always registered the domain name under pseudonym, fake name, or through proxy in order to avoid investigation or manage the website easily. Therefore, it is not easy to identify or locate the real infringers, causing IP right holders to often struggle to put up countermeasures. In this case, according to the notice of CIB, the prosecutor and the police had arrested the operators/suspects of 8maple.ru and seized their computers, mobile phones, cloud servers and other personal properties and real properties. As such, CIB may replace the cover page of 8maple.ru with a notice from CIB containing messages such as “This Domain Has Been Seized,” “The site has violated the Copyright Law of the Republic of China (Taiwan),” and “The Criminals have been currently in judicial investigation,” after arresting the operators/suspects. Please note that the above messages could only be seen from early April (after the seizure of the website) through early June 2020. At present, said site simply shows a notice saying “The domain name has expired.”
In addition, the prosecutor may also directly seize the domain name to prevent the infringer from using said domain illegally. According to Article 133, Paragraph 1 of Code of Criminal Procedure and Article 38, Paragraph 2 of Criminal Code, an item which can be used as evidence, or that is subject to confiscation, may be seized; thus, the domain name of infringing website may be an object of seizure since it is used in the commission of crimes. Further, Article 133-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the prosecutor a special and independent authority to seize the domain name of infringing website without searching for the infringer. On this basis, even if the prosecutor has yet to locate the infringer, the former can apply for a seizure ruling from the court under Article 133, Paragraph 1 and Article 133-1 of Code of Criminal Procedure. After obtaining the judge’s ruling, the prosecutor can request the domain name registry operator to take over the administrative privileges of said domain name, transfer the domain name, or redirect domain name to a specific IP address. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an international body, has established “Guidance for Preparing Domain Name Orders, Seizures & Takedowns,” providing relative instructions on the implementation procedures of seizure. While there are no relevant cases in Taiwan before, should such similar action to ban 8maple.ru arise in the future, and if the prosecutor applies to the judge to seize the domain name of an infringing website, it would mean that our judicial practice recognizes the domain name of an infringing website as object of seizure under Code of Criminal Procedure. This will be of special significance to the IP owner. However, it should be noted that if the domain name of infringing website is registered in a country outside Taiwan, such implementation would depend on the mutual judicial assistance between Taiwan and the country concerned since Taiwan’s judicial authorities have no power over foreign domain name registry operators.
Governments of civilized nations are duty-bound to effectively combat IP infringements. As this type of infringement involves mutual judicial assistance in multiple countries, it is worth to keep an eye on how Taiwanese authorities will work together to combat illegal websites under its Code of Criminal Procedure and the framework of the international judicial cooperation treaties in the future.