The Strange Case of Megaupload

January 22, 2012

I’ve been following the Megaupload case with interest over the past few days with updates from places like the New York Times, Tech News Today, and most recently NPR. The latest NPR article talks about the extent that the Justice Department went to go after the alleged pirates:

"What we're talking about here is, you know, copyright infringement," McSherry says. "And that may be a serious problem, but it's a little bit chilling if that can get you dragged from your house in the middle of the night." It's not just rousting people out of bed or executing search warrants in eight different countries. From the indictment, it's clear the Justice Department pulled out all the stops, getting a judge's permission to try to put the Hong Kong-based company out of business by seizing domain names and, according to one federal source, getting a judge to approve search warrants for private emails that Megaupload officials were sending to each other.

via Privacy Lawyers Process Megaupload Copyright Case : NPR.

What the NPR article left out was a Mission Impossible sounding adventure that the police engaged in where they had to defeat multiple electronic locks and cut the owner of Megaupload out of a safe room before arresting him. Another weird twist involved an advertisement that famous artists like will.i.am participated in for the website. will.i.am later claimed to not have authorized his participation, even though his words explicitly advocated and promoted the website.

Readers that are familiar with copyright law will remember that MGM v. Grokster held that producers of technology that induce copyright infringement can be held liable for that infringement. Sites that do not induce infringement are protected by the DMCA’s safe harbor provisions. This is why sites like YouTube are able to exist while Napster and Grokster cannot. The United States government alleges that megaupload was inducing this type of copyright infringement.

I share these links because the facts are entertaining and movie-like. However I do not think the questions here are difficult. The precedent is settled that inducing infringement is not legal and if the government can prove its case then megaupload should not exist in its current form. There are plenty of great companies like dropbox and amazon that do the same thing and do not promote breaking copyright law.

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