By Robert Romano — In an unexpected move, on Jan. 19, the U.S. Department of Justice, along with New Zealand law enforcement officials, have taken down Hong Kong-based Megaupload.com, a popular file sharing site that had been promoted by pop culture icons Alicia Keys, Kim Kardashian, and Puff Daddy.
In response, the Anonymous hackers group has waged denial of service attacks on the Department of Justice, the U.S. Copyright Office, the White House, the FBI, MPAA, RIAA, BMI, and Universal Music.
Megaupload’s founders have been arrested, and charged with a criminal conspiracy to violate federal copyright laws, even though the company was based overseas.
More than anything, the move shows that new laws, such as SOPA and PIPA, to take out foreign infringing sites are completely unnecessary.
Which is what Americans for Limited Government Bill Wilson has been saying all along. In a statement before the indictments were announced, he said, “Existing law already provides for the removal of copyrighted material from the Internet domestically, and dealing with foreign infringement requires diplomacy with relevant nations overseas, not a regime of censorship here at home.”
Surely enough, with the cooperation of New Zealand, authorities had little trouble rounding up members of the company and handing down a multi-count indictment.
The company had been claiming to be a “file storage” company, but is accused of facilitating copyright infringement by refusing to process Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests, and by falsely telling copyright owners materials had been removed when members of the company were replacing the url’s of pirated material.
Also, according to the indictment, it allegedly “made payments to uploaders who were known to have uploaded infringing copies of copyrighted works.” It also alleges that members of the company were uploading infringing works themselves.
If true, Megaupload.com would certainly have qualified as a foreign infringing site as defined by SOPA and PIPA.
Importantly, it means no change in existing laws is necessary at all to get at some of the largest infringing sites in the world.
That is why, in light of the charges, members of Congress should reconsider their support of these pieces of legislation.
The timing of the indictment does appear to be a warning shot to U.S.-based user networks. The bills under consideration in the House and Senate explicitly state that they would target foreign websites that would otherwise be eligible for seizure under existing domestic federal forfeiture laws.
It is already using those laws to seize domestic websites it alleges are engaged in piracy, and in some cases is doing so based on apparent bogus complaints, as in the case of www.dajaz1.com.
Considering the type of network Megaupload was — a user network that allows folks to upload pretty much anything they want — that means other networks that allow uploading need to be careful and diligent to process legitimate takedown complaints from copyright holders, and certainly not to share profits with known infringing users.
That said, this is a clear example why existing laws are sufficient for domestic issues, and international issues should be dealt with via diplomacy.
However, a word of warning.
The draconian tools in SOPA and PIPA could be easily leveraged against Wikipedia, Twitter, Google and Facebook. It is a striking coincidence that one of the largest copyright crackdowns in history came one day after many popular sites across the Internet demonstrated the need for careful deliberation on any new laws in this area.
These indictments must not be allowed to be used as a means of squelching dissent, and intimidating opposition to the legislation. It is our hope that the timing of this execution of law was not a message to the broader community, but it certainly could be construed that way. A frightening thought indeed.
Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.