MegaUpload, one of the world's largest file-sharing websites, was shut down Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice, which accused it of violating piracy and copyright laws.
In an indictment, the Justice Department alleged that MegaUpload was a "mega conspiracy" and a global criminal organization "whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale."
The Justice Department said MegaUpload, which had about 150 million users, tallied up harm to copyright holders in excess of $500 million by allowing users to illegally share movies, music and other files. Prosecutors said in the indictment that the site's operators raked in an income from it that topped $175 million.
MegaUpload was just one of the many services that allow for the easy sharing of large files online. Others include sites such as Mediafire and Rapidshare and cloud storage services that allow for shared folders such as Box.net and Dropbox.
One way MegaUpload differentiated itself was with its online marketing campaign that featured celebrities such as rapper/producers Kanye West, Lil' Jon, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Swizz Beats stating in YouTube videos why they loved using the site. Other videos feature tennis star Serena Williams, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons and director Brett Ratner testifying to their use of MegaUpload.
The release of the Justice Department indictment came after dozens of websites, led by tech heavyweights Wikipedia, Craigslist, Mozilla and Google, altered their websites to protest two anti-piracy bills under consideration on Capitol Hill: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
Critics of the bills say the proposed laws would give the Justice Department the ability to censor the Internet by giving the agency clearance to shut down a site without having to get court approval of an indictment, as it did with MegaUpload. Although the indictment was unsealed Thursday, it was issued by a federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 5, the agency said.
In a statement issued with the indictment,the Justice Department said "this action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime."
The Justice Department said that at its request, authorities arrested three MegaUpload executives — officially employed by two companies, Megaupload Ltd. and Vestor Ltd. — in New Zealand, including the site's founder, Kim Dotcom, who was born Kim Schmitz. The agency is also looking to arrest two additional executives.
The indictment charges the two companies with running a "racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement."
According to the Associated Press, before the MegaUpload site was shut down Thursday, a statement was posted on the site saying the allegations made against it were "grotesquely overblown" and 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."
Visits to Megaupload.com on Thursday showed the website as unable to load. The Justice Department had ordered the seizure of 18 domain names it linked to the alleged wrongdoing.
[Updated at 3:42 p.m.: As noted by Times reporter Ben Fritz on our sister blog Company Town, the hacker group Anonymous has allegedly lobbed a denial-of-service attack that has temporarily taken down the websites for the Department of Justice and Universal Music as a move in retaliation for the shutdown of MegaUpload. Forbes is reporting that the same attack has struck the sites for the Recording Industry of America and the Motion Picture Assn. of America.]
[Updated at 3:50 p.m.: The Twitter accounts @YourAnonNews and @AnonOps are taking credit on behalf of Anonymous for the web attacks on the websites of the Justice Department, Recording Industry of America, Motion Picture Assn. of America and Universal Music.]
Can the gospel of file sharing really be recognized as a religion? In Sweden it can.
In the midst of a worldwide debate about Internet piracy, Swedish authorities have granted official religious status to the Church of Kopimism, which claims it considers CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) to be sacred symbols, and that information is holy and copying is a sacrament.
The church was founded by philosophy student Isak Gerson, who is also the self-appointed spiritual leader of the movement.
In a statement on the church’s website, he says its religious roots stem back to 2010 and that it formalized a community of file sharers that already has been “well spread” for a long time.
“The community of kopimi requires no formal membership,” he writes. “You just have to feel a calling to worship what is the holiest of the holiest, information and copy.”
(For those who are unaware, kopimi is pronounced “copy me.”)
According to the Church of Kopimism website, church services consist of “kopyactings,” whereby the “kopimists” share information with each other through copying and remixing.
Bertil Kallner of Sweden’s Financial and Administrative Services told the Swedish newspaper Gagens Nyheter that a religious community could “basically be anything.”
“What’s important is that it is a community for religious activities,” he said.
Still, it took the Church of Kopimism three tries over the course of a year before members were able to formalize their way of praying or meditation so that they could be recognized as an official religion.
The blog Torrent Freak reports that membership in the church has grown from 1,000 to 3,000 in the last six months, and the founders expect more people to join now that its religious status is making a splash on the Internet.
“Being recognized by the state of Sweden is a large step for Kopimi,” said Gerson. “Hopefully this is one step towards the day when we can live out our faith without fear of persecution.”
– Deborah Netburn
Photo: Is a file sharing organ in the works? They might model it off this one in the Holy Trinity Church in Kristianstad, on the east coast of Sweden. Credit: Katie Lee Pelon.