Three days before the 2012 Super Bowl, federal officials said they have seized more than 300 websites accused of selling fake merchandise or illegally streaming sports games.
Recent anti-piracy bills in Congress crashed and burned after critics said they could limit free speech and undermine due process. While the entertainment industry took a leading role in the debate over the legislation, Thursday's announcement highlights the less-publicized counterfeit goods side of online piracy.
As part of an ongoing "Operation Fake Sweep," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shut down 307 websites, including 16 used to stream live sports events, and 291 allegedly selling counterfeit goods.
A Michigan man was arrested on Wednesday and charged with operating nine of the 16 sites accused of streaming copyrighted content.
"In sports, players must abide by rules of the game, and in life, individuals must follow the laws of the land," ICE Director John Morton said at a news conference with National Football League officials on Thursday. "Our message is simple: abiding by intellectual property rights laws is not optional; it's the law."
The "record-breaking" operation netted $4.8 million worth of fake Super Bowl-related items from a range of stores, flea markets, street vendors, and other places, according to ICE. Officials also seized $6.4 million in fake memorabilia from other sports.