January 20, 2012

Lessons From the Megaupload Case

Jerry Brito

Former Senior Research Fellow

This post originally appeared at The Technology Liberation Front.

The Megaupload folks are not the most sympathetic defendants, to say the least. They likely knew very well they were profiting from piracy, and they probably induced it as well. Anonymous’s attacks in retaliation for the arrests and domain seizures, therefore, threaten to destroy the good will the Internet community generated the previous day with the SOPA protests. That all said, we can’t lose sight of the principle because of the bad actors involved.

This case shows that law enforcement is perfectly capable of securing international cooperation and taking direct action against large piracy operations overseas. The Megaupload principals were arrested and they now face extradition and trial. So why do we need due-process-free domain seizures or tinkering with the inner workings of the Internet to combat piracy?

This case also reminds us that the federal government already has the power to seize .com, .net, .org and other U.S.-registered domains. Stopping SOPA is one thing, but now the task should be rolling back excessive government powers to control information online.

The balance struck by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which gives safe harbor to sites that take down allegedly infringing content when notified by the owner, is the right one. No safe harbor is available to sites that have actual knowledge that they are benefiting from pirated content, as is probably the case with Megaupload.