Who needs SOPA or PIPA to pull any sites associated with pirated copy asunder when you have a very public federal raid to scare you straight?
Cyberlocker sites have responded with “unprecedented action” to last week’s shutdown of Megaupload and the arrests of its founder and top executives. Since Thursday, TorrentFreak reports, a number of Megaupload’s popular competitors like VideoBB and VideoZer have done away with payment systems that rewarded uploaders when their files were shared. Filesonic (a top-10 site with a billion pageviews per month) and Fileserve took even more drastic action; both sites now forbid users to download any content they didn’t upload themselves.
Meanwhile there have been reports that Fileserve, VideoBB, and VideoZer, among others, have been “ mass deleting accounts and huge numbers of files.” In Fileserve’s case, accounts have suddenly been banned on “Terms of Service” violations. Uploaded.com took a different tactic and banned all U.S. IP addresses, presumably to remove itself from the feds’ warpath.
But shockwaves sent through the ecosystem go further than just the cyberlockers themselves. Sites called “release blogs” that provide links to material on cyberlockers and let others submit links (Sidereel, Blinkx are two such blogs Betabeat often sees at the top of search results) “show less variety and volume than they did this time last week,” says TorrentFreak.
The most troubling thing here is that sites are scrambling to respond to claims in an indictment that has left insiders scratching their heads. Ars Technica called the indictment against Megaupload “odd in many ways,” pointing out that, “When Viacom made many of the same charges against YouTube, it didn’t go to the government and try to get Eric Schmidt or Chad Hurley arrested.” TechDirt said the indictment raised “significant concerns about what the DOJ considers evidence of criminal behavior.”
For example, as TechDirt points out, one of the reasons cited for criminal activity is the fact that Megaupload didn’t have a site search function. However, in previous cases authorities have used the presence of a search button as evidence of criminal activity.
“So there’s an argument that the idea not to have a search engine wasn’t so much “conspiracy,” as it was an attempt to follow the guidance of the court and to stay legal. To use the lack of a feature, that previously was shown to be a problem, as evidence of a conspiracy is crazy.”
That’s one example of a shaky claim in the indictment. Paying users as a sign of an inducement to illegal activity could be another. File hosting sites like MediaFire are busy marketing themselves as legit because they don’t “incentivize piracy” by paying for popular uploads. However, as TechDirt points out:
“There does seem to be a bit of a stretch in assuming that because some uploaders get lots of downloads by posting infringing content, all such ‘paid’ users must be putting up infringing works. There are plenty of viral videos that are quite popular not because of infringement. In fact, much of this seems to be based on the simple assumption that encouraging more usage means they must be encouraging infringement. It’s entirely possible that Dotcom did encourage infringement, but it feels like there should be more actual evidence of that, rather than pasting together a bunch of claims that could be interpreted in legitimate ways. Paying users for popularity is not, and should not, be evidence of criminality, or even infringement.”
Somehow we get the feeling Megaupload’s competitors aren’t bothering with arguments against the legality of the indictment when there’s the threat of being arrested in your safe house with a sawed-off shotgun looming over you.