Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Megaupload case spurs other sites to step up anti-piracy enforcement

The Department of Justice accused employees of breaking copyright law and trying to cover up their actions.
The Department of Justice accused employees of breaking copyright law and trying to cover up their actions
(CNN) -- When the Department of Justice shut down last month, it wasn't just Megaupload users' files that went offline.

The move prompted changes in the way other file-hosting sites share content and shook up anti-abuse departments across the industry.

Since the federal crackdown, third-party aggregate sites no longer link to Megaupload's video host, Megavideo, which has also been shut down.

File host videobb did not respond to questions from CNN regarding its anti-abuse policies, but links to the site's content were noticeably absent from sites like Side Reel following Megaupload's shutdown. Direct links to videobb's movies and TV shows that were available less than a month ago are now gone.

The change suggests videobb is stepping up anti-abuse efforts in order to avoid the fate of Megaupload, a Hong Kong-based site which is accused of knowingly hosting illegally pirated material. It would be almost impossible for videobb to completely eliminate illegal content, but just the effort to do so may be enough to shield it from criminal charges.

Another file-sharing site, BTJunkie, voluntarily shut down Monday. The site's founder told TorrentFreak that recent legal action against Megaupload and other similar services was behind his decision.

The Department of Justice has accused Megaupload of willfully breaking copyright law and trying to cover up its actions by hiding illegal materials from the site's public page. Federal prosecutors said the company offered financial incentives for users to illegally upload movies and television shows. It also accused Megaupload officials of discouraging the legitimate use of the site for personal storage by deleting content that was not regularly downloaded.

The indictment alleges the company has denied copyright holders an estimated $500 million and that those indicted have earned roughly $175 million in the process. Attorneys for Megaupload have denied the charges.

A Department of Justice representative said in an e-mail the agency will only pursue cases like Megaupload's where there was "sufficient evidence of willful criminal conduct."

That means videobb will likely be safe from criminal charges as long as it continues removing illegal content from third-party aggregate sites. If other companies follow suit, the Justice Department will have accomplished what some have suggested was its primary goal -- making an example of Megaupload to convince other file hosts to step up anti-piracy enforcement.

However for some, the elimination of Megaupload as a file-hosting option has made vetting pirated content more difficult.

Daniel Raimer, a spokesman for Switzerland-based file host RapidShare, said the company's anti-abuse department has been working overtime since the day last month when Megaupload went offline. The workload is not caused by an increased emphasis on removing copyrighted material, he said, but is necessary to vet a massive influx of files from new customers -- Megaupload's customers.

Raimer said the company has not made any changes or improvements to its anti-abuse policies in the wake of the Megaupload scandal. He said it wasn't necessary because RapidShare was already among the toughest in the industry.

RapidShare has a three-strike policy for copyright offenders, after which the site deletes users' accounts and all of their files, a tactic which has proved unpopular with ousted users.

"There's some trash talk online, but we're not sad about those comments," Raimer said. "We like bad press from pirates."

RapidShare uses a variety of technical tools to catch abusers, but the site also uses a basic search method identical to what might be employed by any home user. Raimer said RapidShare technicians type words like "movies, free download" into search engines to look for illegal movie and TV show downloads on the site.

The process can be tedious for the 17-person team. While they comprise nearly a third of RapidShare's staff, Raimer said it is impossible for them to check each of the 400,000 files uploaded to RapidShare each day. He estimates about 5 percent of all files are illegal, but his team can only catch and delete about 1 percent of all uploaded files.

Raimer said it has been even more difficult to keep up with incoming content since Megaupload's shutdown because of all the new customers. However despite the increased difficulty, he said RapidShare's commitment to legitimate file-hosting remains the same. Raimer said RapidShare wants to ensure its new customers understand its business model.

"We don't provide any incentive to upload illegal content," he said. "We are determined to show them we don't tolerate that."
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