Megaupload, a once-popular file sharing site on the web was shut down in January, 2012 after a long running investigation starting in 2010 by the FBI. The site had previously been a target of Hollywood’s anti-piracy attempts, and was alleged to be highly involved in trafficking large amounts of copyrighted material to users. Its founder, Kim Dotcom, and several other members of his team were specifically targeted, as they were believed to have been enabling such copyright infringement to occur.
On the one side, stood Mr. Dotcom and his lawyers who suggested that he could not be held accountable for the copyright infringement of users of the site. Mr. Rothkin, Dotcom’s laywer went as far as to state that the US Justice Department was “Putting the interest of Hollywood ahead of those of cloud-storage customers”. While it might be plausible to assume that Mr. Dotcom, and his team were “unaware” of the supposed rampant piracy occurring on the site, this was simply not the case.
For the US Department of Justice, evidence was piled up with documents and internet transmissions showing conversations between Dotcom and his team, with lines such as “We’re modern pirates :-)”. Evidence such as this makes it pretty difficult to assume that Megaupload’s staff was unaware of the situation. It was also no secret that Dotcom and his team were making millions of dollars from advertising revenue alone. While this is not direct revenue from copyrighted material, it was assumed that a large deal of this money was a result of traffic which was gained through illegitimate means.
According to current US copyright law, the owner of a copyrighted work has the exclusive right to reproduce and distribute said work. With this being said, it’s clear that the users who uploaded the copyrighted material to Megaupload were in the wrong. In some specific users’ cases, they may be able to work in a fair use exception, if they used Megaupload to distribute something to a class, and it was a private link, but this is surely not true for every copyrighted file uploaded. In a lot of cases, it’s really at the discretion of a judge to decide whether or not fair use would be a valid defense.
While it is no debate that outside the realm of fair use, distribution of copyrighted materials is illegal, the controversy lies in whether the owners of the site should be held responsible for its users activity. According to the DMCA copyright act, there are certain safe harbors a network service provider has, which allow them limited liability. The key words of course, being “limited”. One such safe harbor is when the information residing on the service is “at the discretion of its users”. In Megaupload’s defense, this is certainly the true. Where then lies some punishable offense that
In all, it’s difficult to say who will win. Keeping in mind the fact that technically Dotcom was protected under DMCA safe harbor, however the courts are finding him to be “assisting in the distribution of copyrighted materials”. The evidence presented at the US court case revealed several quotes that demonstrated that Dotcom was aware of what was happening, and even possibly intended for people to do it. With that in mind, I think it’s pretty clear that he should be responsible, and the US court is in the right to be seeking damages for his actions.
My view on the situation is such, that I believe Dotcom definitely knew what he was doing when he created the site. I think he had every intention to break copyright law with the site, and although he may be able to fight heavily in the legal arena to frame the situation in a way that lets him get away with it, this is all delaying the inevitable conviction that he legally deserves.
Lee A. Hollaar, “Chapter 3: Copyright of Digital Information” Digital Law Online, 2002, accessed April 14, 2015
“Copyright Law of the United States of America” U.S. Copyright Office, 1980, accessed April 14, 2015
Doug Gross, “What’s the controversial site Megaupload.com all about?” CNN News, January 21, 2012, accessed April 12, 2015
Dan Hunter, “Intellectual Property” Oxford University Press, 2012