With public outcry over the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act at its height, the Department of Justice has shut down file-sharing site Megaupload, describing it as an ‘international organized criminal enterprise’.
It says the site, and others associated with it, generated more than $175 million in criminal proceeds. It also claims it caused more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners – as usual, without any details to back this up.
It’s one of the biggest-ever copyright cases ever brought by the US, and may be a sign of things to come if SOPA really does go ahead. Tellingly, perhaps, the DoJ notice highlights the fact that infringing content wasn’t publicized on the site itself, but that Megaupload instead supported the use of third-party linking sites.
The arrests have certainly incensed the Anonymous hacking group. It immediately hit both the DoJ and the FBI websites, along with some of the ‘big content’ firms behind the Act, including Universal Music, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.
“The FBI didn’t think they would get away with this, did they?” comments the group, adding that this is its largest ever attack on government and music industry sites.
According to the DoJ, seven individuals and two corporations – Megaupload Limited and Vestor Limited – are charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.
The alleged leader is New Zealander Kim Dotcom, 37 – aka Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor – who founded Megaupload and is the director and sole shareholder of holding company Vestor.
The other people charged are chief marketing officer Finn Batato, 38, of Germany; graphic designer Julius Bencko, 35, of Slovakia; head of business development Sven Echternach, 39; chief technical officer Mathias Ortmann, 40, of Germany; programmer Andrus Nomm, 32, of Estonia; and Dutch citizen Bram van der Kolk, aka Bramos, 29, who oversees programming and the underlying network structure for the websites.
They face between five and 20 years jail for each of the charges.
Dotcom, Batato, Ortmann and van der Kolk were arrested yesterday in New Zealand, while the others remain at large. Law enforcement’s seized around $50 million in assets, and 18 domain names.
It’s impossible to tell whether the arrests were timed to coincide with the SOPA protests; it’s clearly been a long-running operation, so probably not. But if the DoJ had wanted to highlight the gulf between the two sides on the debate, it could hardly have done a better job.