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MegaUpload Raid Proves SOPA Won't Work


Why the MegaUpload Raid Proves SOPA Won't Work

FBI Raid MegaUpload
If you are following news about online piracy yesterday, I don't blame you. I've spent more than my share of time than this topic deserves, however I did catch the story about the FBI raid on a company called MegaUpload, with servers rented in Virginia.

MegaUpload, which reportedly generated $175 million last year, acts as a storage and transfer facility for extremely large files. It allows people to store large files and share them with others. They have policies in place that if a copyright holder discovers a file that they own, it can be reported.

According to the Feds, the abuse reporting system wasn't adequate to protect copyright holders. Additionally, they stated that the executives knew and willingly allowed pirated material to be stored. They cited a two-year investigation including internal e-mails.

The raids arrested seven individuals in Virginia and New Zealand, including the CEO. The raids in New Zealand were carried out by New Zealand police.

The company operated more than 1100 servers which were confiscated in Virginia, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. Additionally, the website itself was taken off-line, based on a server in Hong Kong.

Suspicions suggest that the MPAA (the film industry association) and the RIAA (music industry association) pressured the raid to bring recently defeated piracy acts SOPA and PIPA back into the spotlight, although the investigation clearly preceded the introduction of this legislation. The timing of the raid is suspicious, however.

Here's why the MegaUpload raid proves that SOPA won't work.

Under SOPA, the copyright holders themselves could have tried to shut down the system by turning off at the IP level, the servers. However, there were a total of 1100+ servers, each with unique IP addresses. There is no way from the website to determine the IP addresses of those servers. In fact, prior to the raid, I doubt the FBI even knew the IP addresses. They physically seized the servers, something beyond the capability of SOPA.

It also proves that, with international cooperation, the existing laws are capable of making moves on suspected pirates and the resources they use.

The Mega Upload online piracy raid saga is far from over.

First, within minutes of the raid a known rogue organization of hackers, known as Anonymous, claimed responsibility for four denial of service attacks which pummel Web servers with tens of thousands of simultaneous pings, creating a massive slowdown or even shut down of those Web servers. The recording industry websites and the Department of Justice were among the four. While this activity is illegal, and probably committed by an organized network, Anonymous is not an organized crime venture akin to the 1920s mafia during Chicago prohibition. Anonymous is a social network of hackers that are loosely affiliated, perhaps more than 1000 individuals, using attacks from tens of thousands of virus-infected PCs. Shutting down a website under SOPA, even if successful, will not prevent retaliatory attacks. Reportedly the Department of Justice website slowed dramatically, but didn't go down. The other websites crashed under the pressure.

Second, prosecuting MegaUpload executives is going to be tricky, and precedent-setting. The seven individuals are of multiple citizenships and were based in two countries. The raids took place in four different jurisdictions. Even if all four countries agree, or all are willing to extradite, proving the executives are responsible is going to be challenging based on other examples. Using a service such as MegaUpload to commit piracy is roughly the equivalent of using a gun to commit a murder. This website is the tool, not to direct offender. Convicting them may be similar to convicting a handgun manufacturer for crime committed with their weapons. Handgun manufacturers know that their weapons are used to commit crimes. Additionally, handgun manufacturers have even made modifications to their weapons, making them more appealing to criminals then to law enforcement. However, no handgun manufacturer has ever been convicted or found civilly liable for crimes committed with their product. Recognizing that someone is using your service illegally doesn't necessarily equate to committing crime.

Third, the Department of Justice seized data that was stored legally on those servers. The mega upload service can also be used to transfer files of legitimate purpose. Each of those 1100 servers probably had many files stored that were perfectly legal, and are the proprietary information and property of the service users. Now the federal government has seized large quantities of data that they are entitled to be possessing, and that their agents violate privacy issues by even examining. In a real-world equivalent, this would be the same as seizing all of the safety deposit boxes of a bank, because a known criminal is using some of the boxes for storage of stolen property. Worse, even if the safety deposit boxes are only temporarily seized, the contents would have to be examined to determine which ones had illegal content.

There are lots of sites that offer storage services including cloud servers owned by Apple, Microsoft, Google and many of the largest legitimate companies in America. All of them are being used to store some illegally possessed data, without a doubt. Is the federal government allowed to seize data on third-party servers simply because the company owning the servers is aware that their product could be used in criminal activity? This raid will certainly create some precedent-setting legal implications.

I do applaud the Feds on the attempt. Pirating data on a massive scale, or a tiny scale, is a crime and there needs to be a process and consequence for prosecution. The question is, how much impact will this particular raid have on future efforts to stop piracy?

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