Web

Megaupload shut down by feds: Why do we need SOPA?

megaupload-seized

File-sharing mecca Megaupload.com is dead, shut down at the hands of the US federal government. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested four people, and charged three others, in the anti-piracy sting. The forced closure of Megaupload comes just one day after a mass online protest against two pieces of legislation that aim to increase the power of copyright holders to block access to websites that illegally distribute intellectual property, like music and movies.

Those arrested include Megaupload founder Kim “Dotcom” Schmitz, along with three others related to the site. The group was apprehended in New Zealand, with the help of that country’s authorities. Megaupload is officially a Hong Kong-based company, though according to the Justice Department, it also has servers in Ashburn, VA, Washington DC, the Netherlands and Canada. Schmidtz is a resident of both Hong Kong and New Zealand, and is a dual citizen of Finland and Germany.

The indictment against Megaupload, a site that allowed users to upload anything from a text file to a full feature film, then share a link to the file with others, says the site cost copyright holders more than $500 million in lost revenue by making their intellectual property free to download. It also says that Megaupload (aka “the conspirators”) earned $175 million in profits from advertising and premium memberships. Schmitz alone earned $42 million in 2010 from the site, the indictment claims.

In a statement posted to Megaupload, before its takedown, the company asserted that the majority of its content was legitimate, and the claims of lost revenue were “grotesquely overblown.”

“The fact is that the vast majority of Mega’s Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch,” the company said.

Megaupload boasted “more than 150 million registered users, 50 million daily visitors and accounting for four percent of the total traffic on the Internet,” according to the Justice Department, whose website was also unable to load, at the start of this writing. According to Twitter user AnonymousIRC, a highly-popular account related to the hacktivist group ‘Anonymous,’ the DoJ’s website appeared to have been “besieged by pirates.” It is unclear at this time whether Anonymous had anything to do with the outage, which has since been resolved.

UPDATE: It is now glaringly clear that Anonymous was behind the DDoS attack that took down Justice.gov, along with the websites of Universal Music, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), the White House, the US Copyright Office and the FBI, among others. Needless to say, this isn’t going to go over well in Washington.

In addition to having been one of the most-widely-used file-sharing sites on the Web, Megaupload is also unique because of its endorsements from artists like Kanye West, Will.i.am, and Alicia Keys. Kim Kardashian, who is not an artist, also endorsed the site. Renowned rapper, producer, and NYU professor Kaseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean is listed as was negotiating to become Megaupload’s CEO. (Not coincidentally, Beatz is also Alicia Keys’ husband.) Judging by his recent tweets, the last of which came five hours ago, Beatz still appears to be free, and apparently just ate some Chinese food.

Federal authorities say that the timing of Megaupload’s takedown had nothing to do with Wednesday’s blackout protest against the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA). And that’s most certainly true; this kind of sting doesn’t just happen overnight. But that doesn’t mean the two will remain unrelated in the minds of the public.

This case clearly proves that our government already has the ability to shutdown a website, whose company is based in Hong Kong, and have its employees arrested by the police of another foreign country. That isn’t exactly a compelling argument for giving copyright holders and the federal government more power to combat piracy from “foreign rogue websites,” which is the primary aim of both SOPA and PIPA.

Of course, it appears as though Megaupload isn’t actually considered a “foreign” rogue site, even though its base of operations is in China, due to the fact that it had servers housed in the US. SOPA and PIPA gives the power to block access to — but not entirely shut down — websites that operate exclusively outside the US. After this monstrous display of muscle flexing, however, we doubt many people will have sympathy for that distinction.

That said, combating the piracy of websites that operate outside the rule of US law really isn’t a matter of contention in the SOPA/PIPA debate. It’s all the “unintended consequences” and “collateral damage” that educated critics say the bills’ loose wording could lead to — things like the blockage of legitimate free speech, the squashing of online innovation, and the potential damage to the Internet’s infrastructure — that have the masses seething. The takedown of Megaupload merely shows that our anti-piracy laws aren’t as weak as some would like us to believe.

Mobile

Is the 5G spectrum harmful to our health? Experts say, 'Don't freak out'

There's plenty of consumer anxiety about radiofrequency (RF) radiation, specifically around millimeter waves (mmWave) used on 5G networks, but is it based in reality? We asked the FDA to give us its official view on the subject.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Smart Home

Language barrier? Psh. Here's how to make your Google Home an ace translator

You can now use interpreter mode on your Google Home devices. This means, you can use your Google Home device to translate conversations in real-time. Here's how to use interpreter mode.
Computing

File Transfer Protocol explained: What FTP is and what it does

FTP stands for "File Transfer Protocol," and it's used to transfer files online. Most internet users don't need it, but web developers use it constantly. Here's what FTP is, how it works, and how you can get started using it.
Computing

Use one of these password managers to help protect yourself online

The internet can be a scary place, especially if you don't have a proper password manager. This guide will show you the best password managers you can get right now, including both premium and free options.
Computing

YouTube beats Apple, Netflix as the most trusted brand by millennials

The popular video sharing website YouTube climbed up in an annual Mblm study, moving up from third place in 2018 and coming ahead of both Apple and Netflix in final 2019 rankings. 
Computing

Russia will ‘unplug’ from the internet as part of a cyber-defense test

Authorities across Russia are planning on unplugging the country from the global internet as part of a test of its cyber defenses. The disconnection will briefly keep all internet traffic inside the country.
Gaming

These are the coolest games you can play on your Google Chrome browser right now

Not only is Google Chrome a fantastic web browser, it's also a versatile gaming platform that you can access from just about anywhere. Here are a few of our favorite titles for the platform.
Web

Gmail adds lots of new functionality to its right-click menu

Right-click on an email in Gmail and the list of actions is pretty limited. That's about to change, though, as Google has just announced it's expanding the list of options to make its email client that little bit more useful.
Computing

Tired of paying a monthly fee for Word? The best Microsoft Office alternatives

Looking for a competent word processor that isn't Microsoft Word? Thankfully, the best alternatives to Microsoft Office offer robust features, expansive compatibility, and an all-too-familiar aesthetic. Here are our favorites.
Computing

Make a GIF of your favorite YouTube video with these great tools

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier today than ever, but choosing the right tool for the job isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our two favorite online tools.
Computing

Lose the key for your favorite software? These handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.
Computing

From beautiful to downright weird, check out these great dual-monitor wallpapers

Multitasking with two monitors doesn't necessarily mean you need to split your screens with two separate wallpapers. From beautiful to downright weird, here are our top sites for finding the best dual-monitor wallpapers for you.
Social Media

Instagram test reveals direct messages may be coming to browsers

Instagram for the web has always been a minimalist affair compared to the feature-rich smartphone app, but in the last few years that's started to change. The latest news is that Instagram is considering adding direct messages.