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Jan 27, 2012

When the Dotcom bubble burst, my (legal) Megauploads vanished

@rupertmurdoch No


@rupertmurdoch No excuses for phone hacking. No argument. No excuses either for copyright stealing, but plenty of ignorant argument!

There are no excuses for copyright “stealing” — nor are there excuses for falling for the fallacy of invincible ignorance.

A New Zealand judge denied bail to Kim Dotcom earlier this week, the founder of cyberlocker Megaupload. This means that the process of justice will naturally proceed with Dotcom allowed his right to appeal, which his lawyer says he will. The US Justice Department is alleging that Dotcom and Megaupload “for more than five years … operated websites that unlawfully reproduce and distribute infringing copies of copyrighted works”.

The US Justice Department ordered the seizure of 18 domain names it deemed were “associated with the alleged Mega conspiracy” before Dotcom or anyone related to Megaupload had their day in court, causing any users of the site to lose, probably permanently, any data they stored on the seized servers.

I had been using Megaupload for the past few months, smart enough to also keep a back-up of the files I uploaded on an external hard drive. Not the latest illegal downloads of Jersey Shore, just boring research material — an archive of notes and articles relating to a honours thesis proposal I was hoping to submit for candidature next semester. I am also an avid musician and had uploaded recordings and arrangements (my own substandard arrangement of Frank Zappas The Black Page was something I was particularly proud of) as well as various writing drafts. And a zip of some photos and videos related to my father, who passed away two-and-a-half years ago, because I didn’t want to lose them in a possible fire/meltdown. In all a sizeable amount of back-ups.

There comes a time in life where electronics pass on and I had the unfortunate experience of a melted external hard drive a few weeks ago. This combined with replacing my laptop, which I did on January 20 — but left me relying on my third source, the internet, to hold back-ups. But this wasn’t the only event that occurred on that day.

Dotcom, the 300-pound hacking gorilla, found himself staring at a squad of police officers, allegedly with a sawn-off shotgun next to him. Soon after the Megaupload site was taken down based on what US constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald rightly calls “unproven accusations”.

I admit I made a mistake. The mistake was assuming that taking down websites before a trial has taken place was a power that was contained after the US Congress backed away from the SOPA/PIPA legislation. As Greenwald outlines brilliantly, the DOJ already had those powers and used them to freeze Megaupload.

But apparently it is the fault of the users who lost data, at least according to a spokesman at the Department of Justice (name withheld for “security reasons”) who claims in an email to the site Digital Trends that:

“In fact, Megaupload.com expressly informed users through its Frequently Asked Questions (‘FAQs’) and its Terms of Service that users have no proprietary interest in any of the files on Megaupload’s servers, they assume the full risk of complete loss or unavailability of their data, and that Megaupload can terminate site operations without prior notice.”

If it had been Megaupload that had chosen to cease operating it would be easier to accept this excuse and the anger would instead be lying on the front door of Dotcom’s $26 million mansion. However, the problem lies in the fact the DOJ’s actions caused a problem where there didn’t need to be one. If there had there been a date set for court, you could guarantee users who were using the service for legal purposes would have moved their back-ups somewhere safe. Instead the site was nuked without warning based on accusation to satisfy an embarrassed copyright lobby post-SOPA.

Luckily for me, some of the transcriptions I’d stored on another computer and I’d emailed myself some of the novel drafts so I could work on them from university computers. But despite my attempts at getting the external restored, innumerable hours of work and personal back-ups have been lost.

But one can rest easy knowing that struggling artists are going to benefit from the immediate takedown-without-warning. As musician Jonathan Coulton sarcastically asked: “Any other musicians notice that ever since they shut down Megaupload, the money has just been POURING in?

“Them’s the breaks I guess, but in evaluating whether this shutdown was a net positive for us humans, you have to take that into account.”

Intriguingly, despite claims they didn’t care for artists, in a letter to Torrentfreak last December Dotcom outlined his plans for a new music service called Megabox. This service, similar to iTunes, would have provided artists with 90% of revenue derived by selling their music directly to consumers. This compares with the estimated 12% most major artists receive via iTunes after their label and everyone else take their cut.

The hope of the copyright crusaders is that Megaupload’s demise will cause others to rethink their position. Filesonic, another popular cyberlocker, has changed so you cannot share files with others, only download your personal files. Another popular site, Uploaded.to, has resorted to blocking US users.

But a quick look on Google Insights holds that searches for “watch movies online” are as high as ever. If there is a will, there will be another Kim Dotcom.


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