Last week, the Justice Department shut down a popular website called Megaupload. The company was charged with storing and distributing pirated material, and thus robbing copyright holders of more than $500,000. This is one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought. The action is part of the U.S. government’s battle over online piracy.
Megaupload is a heavily visited site based in Hong Kong that’s been used to share large files, including movies, videos, television shows, e-books, games, and music. The site has 150 million registered users and 50 million visits a day.
The Justice Department released indictments against seven executives. Four were arrested at the New Zealand mansion of its founder, who goes by the name Kim Dotcom.
Within hours of the Justice Department shutting down the site, the hacker collective called Anonymous retaliated. They shut down the websites of the Justice Department and major media groups, including Universal Music and the Motion Picture Association of America.
The government’s actions came one day after last week’s online protests against anti-piracy bills in Congress. Two companies behind the online protests were Google Inc. and Wikipedia.
The protests caused congressional leaders to temporarily back-down and search for a compromise between Hollywood and Internet companies. The Hollywood lobbying group had built bipartisan backing for the proposed legislation before unprecedented Web opposition prompted at least 13 co-sponsors to abandon the bills.
The House’s proposed bill is called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). In the Senate the bill is called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA). According to fightforthefuture.org, PIPA would give the government new powers to block American’s access to websites that corporations don’t like. The bill would allow corporations and the U.S. government to censor entire websites and cut sites off from advertising, payments and donations.
Former Senator Chris Dodd (current chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America -MPAA) along with Markham Erickson, executive director of technology industry group NetCoalition, said the hiatus offers “a chance to reset the dialogue.”
The anti-piracy bills would have let the Justice Department seek court orders forcing Internet-service providers, search engines, payment processors, and online ad networks to block or stop doing business with non-U.S. sites linked to selling counterfeit goods. The measures would also have let private copyright holders seek court orders forcing payment and ad companies to cut off such websites.
Internet companies, including Google and Facebook Inc., have said the Hollywood-backed bills would hinder innovation, chill free expression, and disrupt the Web’s functioning.
The Internet industry is willing to work with copyright owners and content producers to resolve their concerns, said Erickson. Members of his Washington-based NetCoalition include Google, Yahoo! Inc. and Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
Erickson said his group favors severing financial support to “rogue” websites outside the U.S., by cutting their links to advertising and payment services such as Visa Inc. and PayPal Inc., if the sites are found by a court to be unlawful due to an action by the U.S. Attorney General.
Sources: PBS, Bloomberg Businessweek, fightforthefuture.org