How The Megaupload Shutdown Has Put 'Cloud Computing' Business Plans At Risk

from the that's-not-a-good-thing dept

As you recall, last month's SOPA/PIPA protests were followed the very next day by the US government shutting down Megaupload. While there have been plenty of discussions about the wider implications of the January 18th anti-SOPA/PIPA protests, there's been less analysis about the wider impact of the Megaupload case. Lawyer Philip Corwin has a long (really, really long) article suggesting that the longer term impact will come more from the Megaupload shutdown... and not in a good way.
It is however the viewpoint of this article that the Megaupload indictment will likely be seen in the long run as having a more significant impact on Internet business models and innovation than the withdrawal of PIPA and SOPA — and this would be the case even if those bills had been enacted in some combined form.
The article covers a lot of ground (much of which you'll already be familiar with, if you read Techdirt regularly). But the gist of it is that the details of the indictment significantly blur the lines between what is civil and and what is criminal copyright infringement, and also rely on multiple, very common practices for various cloud service providers. While the US government cheers on the fact that other cyberlockers are changing how they operate, there's significant fear that this will massively alter the "cloud computing" landscape, in that it creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty, where services with perfectly legitimate intent can be accused of criminal activities based on very questionable claims. Perhaps the most ridiculous is the catch-22 situation in which Megaupload got blamed for trying to hide the infringing activity on its site. If it had left it up, it would have been accused of facilitating or inducing infringement, but by making it hard to find, it's accused of conspiracy to hide the activity.
Megaupload removed the search feature on its website, which had previously been of assistance to those looking for infringing content. The indictment alleges that this was done to disguise the company's willful infringement, much of which was purportedly facilitated by other "linking" websites operated by unrelated third parties. But if the search feature had not been removed, wouldn't that have been cited as evidence of facilitating infringement? Similarly, the indictment notes that "browsing the front page of Megavideo.com does not show any obviously infringing copies of any copyrighted works; instead, the page contains videos of news stories, user generated videos, and general Internet videos in a manner substantially similar to Youtube.com", but then cites "the most-viewed videos in the Entertainment category on Megavideo.com… has at times revealed a number of infringing copies of copyrighted works that are available from Mega Conspiracy-controlled servers" as evidence of knowing facilitation of commercial infringement.
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

But the bigger fear is about the kinds of businesses that are put at risk under the vague standards used in the indictment. The article talks about popular services like Dropbox, which could be accused of many of the things in the Megaupload indictment. It also talks about YouTube, and how -- if these kinds of enforcement actions were popular five years ago -- we might not have had a YouTube any more:
A recent New Yorker profile of YouTube's evolution makes one wonder if the "YouTube Conspiracy" might not have been criminally targeted if this enforcement tactic was being employed when it launched in 2005, especially since e-mails between its principals indicated a deliberate toleration of infringing content to build traffic — e-mails that bear a distinct resemblance to some of those reproduced in the Megaupload indictment.
Instead, as Corwin points out, YouTube "has become a treasured piece of contemporary Americana."

For all the talk of how SOPA and PIPA were bad for changing the way the internet would have to work, it's worth noting the very very real impact of the Megaupload takedown on the potential development of various new services and business models. The risks and uncertainty increased massively on January 19th, and not in a good way for anyone.

Filed Under: business models, cloud computing, copyright, fraud, legal risk
Companies: megaupload


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Feb 2012 @ 6:02pm

    The coziness between hollywood and politicians, lawyers and IP Czar's is unmistakable.

    A point in the article mentioned that Rapidshare was on the "rogue" list in 2010 and removed in 2011. One thing they did different than Mega "conspiracy" was hire a lobbying firm.

    If the tech community really donates more than hollywood, it obviously isn't getting to the right pockets to make a difference because no one is asking for any tech insight.

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