Megaupload raided by feds, geeks go HAM

20.01.12

The internet went a bit bonkers while you were asleep.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, Sopa for short, is currently working its way through Congress. Proponents (including the big four music majors and most film studios) claim the act will stop people stealing the work of artists and other creators of intellectual property. Critics (including Google, Youtube, Facebook, Wikipedia and a bunch of hackers, more of which later) claim it will limit the freedom of the internet. So, basically, industry vs internet. Slamdown!

The day before yesterday, Wikipedia had an in-no-way-overly-emotional blackout in protest. Think of it as Tahir Square, run by the squarest people in the world.

Then yesterday, Megaupload was raided by the FBI. Megaupload is a free file-hosting website whose CEO is Swizz Beatz, and, less surprisingly, whose founder is a tubby German fraudster who changed his name to Kim Dotcom (from Kim Schmitz). In case you were lucky enough to miss this, a video starring Kanye West, P Diddy, Chris Brown and many more appeared last year, produced by the CEO:

Though there are many perfectly legitimate reasons to use the site that lets you send files too large to email, (shock horror) it has been used to transfer music and movies illegally. On a colossal scale: according to the federal indictment, Mr Dotcom’s company made $175 million by costing copyright holders over $500 million dollars. As a result, the FBI shutdown their operations yesterday, closing Megaupload’s homepage.

So, the internet got very cross with the industry, and a group called Anonymous went to war. Anonymous are a slightly pretentious group of hackers who break websites, and they took down the homepages of the Department of Justice and the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America.

If you are curious, this magazine’s stance is, as with many other things, fundamentally agnostic. The internet is itself a peer-to-peer filesharing network, and legislating against it with as clumsy a piece of legislation as Sopa is foolhardy. To read the sharing of a song on Youtube as stealing is overblown. Information is good, and should be free.

However, the view that art, whether writing, music or a movie is simply a piece of information is an odd view, and a sad one. The people who make the things we enjoy should enjoy making them, and that means that these things cannot be stolen. That preventing this is morally correct is an unjustifiable position.

That is to say, that the last few days, which have seen the industry pitted against the internet, have felt like a return to the middle years of the last decade. But in the years since those panicked lawsuits and plummeting revenues, a great deal changed. Yes, if you use a website to illegally share music, that’s naughty, and if you get money from a website which you know is used for that, that’s nasty. What’s more, it’s illegal – intellectual property laws devised before the 45 RPM record are amazingly adept at curtailing piracy to an acceptable level. Most of the legitimate file-sharing networks have been driven underground, further than the average music fan wishes to go. Renumeration strategies still need to be found, but with internet empires like YouTube, iTunes and Spotify all embraced, albeit with varying degrees of affection, by the industry, let’s all try to get along, shall we?