By utterly amazing coincidence, ahem, just as the US Congress is considering Sopa and Pipa, cloud locker service Megaupload gets closed down and its top executives arrested and refused bail. The timing is of course important, but nature of the media industries’ latest scalp is even more intriguing. Megaupload, along with Rapidshare, Filestube and other such services, has been more than a thorn in the side of media businesses, it has been making tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of dollars of annual revenue by essentially sticking the middle finger up at copyright owners.
Megaupload’s closure has wreaked the wrath of the hacker community with Anonymous taking down various sites in retaliation. But Anonymous’s anger is misjudged. This is no blow against Internet Users’ rights, and Megaupload is no evangelist for the hacker community. Napster’s Shawn Fanning thought he was changing the world, the Pirate Bay’s Peter Sunde thought he was leading a revolution in copyright. But Megaupload’s Kim Schmitz (aka Kim Dotcom) had no such ideals, for him it was all about the cash. Just take a look at the opulent excess of his mansion and fleet of luxury cars with registration plates such as ‘Mafia’ and ‘CEO’. Schmitz earned his wealth not just through advertising but also by charging users premium fees for better download speeds, thus charging people to download illegal content.
Megaupload et al are an interesting anachronism in the digital piracy landscape. The overriding trend has been for piracy destinations to get more sophisticated and more difficult to tackle each time the media industries take a step forward. Think darknets, encrypted P2P applications, anonymous networks etc. Commercial locker services though are easy targets, typically with central servers and clearly defined commercial operations. If anything, it is surprising that it has taken so long to get Megaupload taken down.
But as with any piracy victory for the media companies, the sweet taste of triumph will be short lived. Close down one upload site and another one will arise. In fact there are already alternative IP addresses for Megaupload circulating around Twitter.
So Megaupload’s takedown is simultaneously a landmark victory and just another furry head smacked downwards in the never ending game of digital-piracy-whack-a-mole.