The Long and Winding Road of MegaUpload

The MegaUpload case has been a long and winding road in the last few years and it’s journey is continuing to this day. While the cyberlockers beginnings may have been marked with success, now, it is dealing with legal hurdles that saw its shutdown earlier this year. We review some of footsteps the website has taken over the last several years.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

Some of its earlier years could be traced way back to when cyberlockers and one-click hosters were barely even in the minds of most file-sharers since many stuck to torrenting their files. There was a time when YouSendIt was really the only cyberlocker many even knew. Of course, RapidShare and MegaUpload eventually became the two sites competing for internet attention. These sites typically billed themselves as a way to bi-pass e-mail attachment restrictions. Simply upload your large file on any one of these cyberlockers and send an e-mail with a link to the uploaded file and you wouldn’t have to worry as much about the files being too large to send. As time progressed, sites like MegaUpload also sold their services as a way to send large files throughout the office or back up important data.

Cyberlockers, not surprisingly, gained popularity. Exactly when cyberlockers became a phenomenon is hard to gauge as it depends on which country you are referring to and what criteria you refer to as the point these types of sites went from being relatively unknown to a huge hit.

Of course, file-sharers saw these sites as places to upload content legal or otherwise and began using these services as an alternative to the relatively restrictive nature of private BitTorrent websites. Blogs and forums were set up to exchange links of material including copyrighted material. Of course, search engines picked up these sites and it didn’t take long before you could type in any content you wanted and add “MegaUpload” at the end of your search query to obtain virtually anything you wanted.

As with just about anything that became popular that could also be used to download copyrighted material, this eventually caught the attention of major corporations who also owned rights to various films, games, software and music. As a result of making sure their sites were legal, many of these sites employed a copyright notice system – typically at least similar to that of a DMCA takedown system like YouTube. If a rightsholder found a link containing copyrighted material, a notice could be sent to the cyberlocker so the material could be taken down. A system like this was implemented on MegaUpload as well.

A War of Words

Somewhere in 2010, rights holders began calling MegaUpload a major piracy operation. In December of 2010 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) demanded that services like Mastercard cut off payments to and from MegaUpload. In response, MegaUpload responded to the move right here on ZeroPaid saying that the Mastercard cutoff wouldn’t disrupt them as much as Mastercard itself. They also said that MegaUpload has numerous legitimate uses as well.

In January of last year, MegaUpload responded to the US Chamber of Commerce allegations that it was a so-called “rogue” website arguing that if MegaUpload is rogue, then so is Google for indexing pirated content as well. Shortly after, Google began filtering its autocomplete queries as part of an effort to filter out pirated content. MegaUpload simply responded to the move saying that it was good news for them. This certainly bolstered their argument that they aren’t strictly a piracy operation.

Really, between 2010 and the end of 2011 the war of words between MegaUpload and rights holders was little more than rights holders saying that the site was a piracy haven while MegaUpload contended that its website was legal – MegaUpload operators even dared those rights holders to take them to court to determine its legitimacy.

The Shutdown and Ensuing Legal Case

The war eventually boiled over. The FBI and New Zealand authorities not only shut down the website in January of this year, but also arrested its founder Kim Dotcom. The website shutdown may have meant the end of a number of copyright infringing links, but also meant the demise of numerous legal links as well. I, for one, was one of those users who used it for legal purposes. As I reported at the time, I had officially become one of many users censored by US authorities as I saw several reliable links to my own music production projects get knocked offline in the midst of the shutdown. Kim Dotcom faced extradition to the US from New Zealand (his current place of residence) on criminal charges related to copyright infringement. US authorities argued that Dotcom shouldn’t be allowed bail because he could be a flight risk, but Dotcom was able to make bail and vowed to stay and fight.

After US authorities examined the servers for evidence for their case, they attempted to have the data destroyed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) stepped in on behalf of innocent users swept up in this case and demanded that legitimate users should be allowed to have their data back.

Even though things started looking bleak for MegaUpload, developments in the case took a turn against US prosecutors. Various parties attempting to maintain the data for numerous reasons began to muddy the waters. The MPAA, at one point, demanded the retention of user data for the purposes of litigating other users. Caparthia, the ISP holding the data demanded that someone should pay for maintaining the 25 petabytes of data it was storing. The US government didn’t want to pay for it, the MPAA didn’t want to pay for it and prosecutors prevented MegaUpload from paying for it. So the data hung in a strange legal limbo. In addition, prosecutors argued that MegaUpload shouldn’t have access to the data for the purposes of building its case on the grounds that the data would be taken and Dotcom would skip the country. This would only serve to complicate matters as this would mean that the defense in a court of law would be denied the ability to obtain evidence to build its own defense.

To make matters even more complicated, the US government wanted to deny MegaUploads current legal representation, claiming that it was a conflict of interest.

Now, more recently, there were moments where prosecutors bungled their case by filing improper paperwork among other problems along the way, even the trial judge admitted that the case had gone so wrong for prosecutors, that there was probably not even going to be a trial at the end of this whole debacle. Some would say that because MegaUpload was being denied the ability to obtain evidence as a sign that prosecutors didn’t even have a case against MegaUpload in the first place. No surprise that Dotcom at one point commented that this whole case was designed merely to destroy MegaUpload.

As of this writing, there is no word on whether or not Dotcom would be extradited for sure or not, but with the case in the US going so wrong, it doesn’t appear likely. In fact, just the other day, Dotcoms lawyer expressed confidence that he won’t be extradited.

No doubt this case is being watched closely by other cyberlockers who may or may not have taken action as a result of this shutdown. Questions like whether or not the US can simply reach in to another sovereign country and pluck the operators out and haul them onto US soil to face charges could be one element to watch for for instance. Still, this remains to be one of file-sharing’s more interesting cases that is still ongoing.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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