In a dramatic response to the increasingly sucessful internet campaign to halt the draconian SOPA and PIPA bills before Congress, US authorities have targeted one of the major filesharing sites in an international operation.

Overnight, the Megaupload site and related portals were taken down by the Department of Justice after a grand jury indicted the company. The charges against Megaupload are extensive and reek of overkill; they include racketeering, conspiracy, money laundering and copyright infringement, with the indictment terming it all “Mega Conspiracy”. Four people were arrested in New Zealand, including millionaire CEO Kim Schmitz (AKA “Kim Dotcom”), a convicted embezzler and inside trader. Assets worth $50 million are said to have been seized as well.

In response, the websites of the Department of Justice, the Universal Music Group, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America were all taken down in a denial-of-service attack. At the time of writing, the Department of Justice site was still down. The attack, using a newer version of the LOIC software, appeared to have been coordinated by Anonymous, and was said to have been even bigger in user numbers than the attacks that took the Visa, Mastercard and PayPal sites down in response to the financial blockade of WikiLeaks in 2010.

A number of prosecutions are still pending in the US from those 2010 attacks. This time around, LOIC users are being told of the need to protect their IP addresses, and being offered legal services in the event they’re arrested.

Megaupload isn’t a torrent-based site like, for example, Pirate Bay (linking to which, incidentally, would be illegal in the US under SOPA) but an open file-sharing site used for uploading and downloading large files — which inevitably includes copyrighted content as well as legitimate content for corporate and personal use. The company behind it has long insisted it operates legally by complying with the requirements of the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act, but it is a major target of the copyright industry, and has also been blocked by China, Saudia Arabia and Malaysia.

US authorities insisted the takedown and arrests were unrelated to the SOPA debate, a claim made all the harder to believe given the US Department of Justice’s recent history of attacks on the internet. It is the DoJ that demanded confidential information from social media companies and Google about WikiLeaks supporters, and tried to keep it secret; it is the DoJ that brought together the parties that plotted an effort to destroy WikiLeaks and smear journalists and activists; it was the DoJ that proposed in November to criminalise breaching internet companies’ terms of service (you know, those 20,000 word screeds none of us ever read?).

The interesting thing about the raids, however, is that they demonstrate the remarkable power the copyright industry has under existing law to attack those it deems its enemies. The cartel was able to rely on the US Department of Justice and an international police operation to attack a company over what, before the internet, was a purely civil matter of copyright breach. In a world where the New Zealand police readily do the bidding of the US copyright industry, the provisions of SOPA are far beyond overkill.

Peter Fray

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