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The government has seized a Web site that helped people bypass anti-piracy technology to play illegal copies of popular video games. The site, iSONEWS.com, was seized as part of a plea agreement by David M. Rocci, 22, of Blacksburg, Va. In December 2002, Rocci pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiring to import, market and sell devices known as modification chips. The chips are designed to get around copyright protections built into game consoles such as the Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2. Once installed, the chips allow the user to play pirated games on the consoles. The government assumed control of Rocci’s domain name and Web site this week and posted information on the site about Rocci’s case as well as information about illegal copyright activity. The Web site had been used to market mod chips and offered listings of available pirated games. It had over 100,000 registered users and claimed to receive over 140,000 hits each day. Some Internet groups were concerned about the free speech implications of the government seizing Web sites and domain names. “It’s a far-reaching and radical approach in light of previous Supreme Court decisions that emphasized the importance of the First Amendment on the Internet,” said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “Unfortunately it appears to be a new law enforcement tactic.” “It adds insult to injury for the government to replace the existing content on a Web site with new government-approved content,” he said. “This could be equivalent to the death penalty in the context of free speech on the Internet.” Marc Zwillinger, an anti-piracy attorney, said private companies have seized control of public Web sites in civil cases. His group has taken over more than 50 satellite piracy Web sites for DirecTV over the last two years and made them into anti-piracy Web sites. In the government’s case, Zwillinger said: “It’s an effective tactic because people looking at the illegal site all of a sudden see a government site. They get the message quickly and they worry about whether they are on some customer records.” Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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