Deus ex Machina
Last week in a worldwide operation coordinated by the US justice department the popular file-sharing website megaupload.com was shut down and the owners arrested over piracy allegations. This came just one day after the shelving of the SOPA anti-piracy bill that caused widespread protest, and rightly so.
There is no secret that file-hosting websites make big money out of piracy. People upload counterfeit movies or ripped music albums or cracked software and others download them, after paying the subscription fees for fast/unlimited downloads. That's why you see so many of these file-hosting sites popping up, and their owners amass fortunes. The extent of piracy didn't escape the attention of the big entertainment industries that tried many times to shut such websites down but with limited success.
Take for instance rapidshare.com, the once king of the hill in this sector. Their executives have been paraded in courts around the world but copyright infringement claims never quite stuck. This has been tested in a number of court cases (e.g. this and that). Rapidshare's defense was that they are not responsible for what people upload to their servers and that they don't facilitate spreading of piracy; they don't offer a search engine for their contents and they promptly handle DMCA takedown notices from copyright owners to remove infringing downloads. The existence of a search engine seems to be the crucial factor, as the case of filespump.com proves beyond reasonable doubt (already shut down for promoting piracy, although not a file-hosting site itself).
So how did they close down megaupload.com? Well first of all the case isn't closed yet, as the site owners are still accused but not convicted. Then there are indications that megaupload actually offered incentives to people to upload pirated content, which won't help their defense in this case — although they didn't offer a search engine per se.
There are further grounds to believe that this is a test case and the DOJ aren't certain of a conviction: magaupload may have made a few people millionaires, but isn't the biggest player in this market. This test case is targetting a medium fish so to speak. As you can see from table 1 below, according to data gathered running crack tracker, megaupload only ranks #15 in popularity among file-hosting websites:
|rank||file-sharing site||% share|
Let me explain how this table came about. I ran crack tracker searching cracks and keygens of the popular file manager called Total Commander last December (before megaupload.com was seized) and I counted the links found in various file-hosting websites. I am not claiming that this is conclusive evidence but it implies the relative publicity of each service. A further assumption is that the trend for illegal software is similar to that for movies and entertainment illegal downloads.
At any rate this is exciting news, as a possible conviction could change the downloads game forever. I bet all the owners of the other big file-hosting sites will have many sleepless nights ahead!
ps. Not one day has passed and the current biggest player has chickened out already! — filesonic.com practically pulled the shutters down