Millions of legal Megaupload files could go out with the bathwater

The millions of users who had legitimate files stored with the Megaupload file-sharing site still can’t get to them, but they now have a slightly larger window of opportunity than they appeared to have a day ago.

The FBI’s takedown of the site and arrest of some of its principals Jan. 19 not only stoked the ongoing debate over piracy and Internet freedoms, but it could also raise questions about storing data in the cloud — and whether one bad apple can spoil the barrel for all users.

Federal prosecutors said Jan. 29 that they had copied the information they needed against Megaupload from its files, which are stored at two Washington, D.C.-area data centers, and that the data centers could begin deleting files as of Feb. 2, the Associated Press reported.

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That put legitimate files at risk for Megaupload users who weren’t involved in what the FBI says was a criminal operation selling pirated copies of music, movies and other products. has claimed to have more than 150 million registered users and 50 million visitors a day.

But on Jan. 30, lawyers for Megaupload executives said that the data centers — Carpathia Hosting in Virginia and Cogent Communications in D.C. — had agreed to hold onto the data for at least two weeks, PC Magazine reported. The centers house the data for a fee, which Megaupload can’t pay because its assets were frozen following the arrests.

Carpathia, which said it did not have access to the data on the Megaupload servers, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have launched the website to help U.S. users recover legitimate files, the report stated.

In a tweet about the agreement with the two data centers, Megaupload attorney Ira Rothken wrote, "Ironic that we need to use a cloud storage service for the legal defense team to collaborate to defend cloud storage provider #Megaupload."

Others raised concerns of the precedent of everything in a cloud storage system being taken away when some of the content crosses a legal line.

“The future of information technology is in cloud-based applications,” wrote Bill Wilson on the political site NetRightDaily. “When the feds can seize the entire cloud based on the actions [of] a few or even many participants, it violates the property rights of its legitimate users.”

A Justice Department spokesman told DigitalTrends that, in this case, users didn’t have a right to expect their files back, because Megaupload had warned them on its terms-of-service and website FAQ to make copies of their files and that the users assumed responsibility for any loss of data.

“The vast majority of users do not have significant capabilities to store private content long-term since anything that isn’t repeatedly downloaded is automatically deleted from the system,” the spokesman said.

Wilson, however, wrote that premium users expected that their data would be stored for at least 90 days and for an unlimited time if they accessed it frequently.

DOJ has indicted seven foreign nationals in connection with Megaupload, including founder Kim Dotcom, charging them with racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement and money laundering, and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.

The case has sent ripples through the debate over whether anti-piracy legislation being considered in the United States and internationally goes too far in potentially restricting free speech and Internet commerce.

The arrests came a day after thousands of websites had gone dark to protest the now-effectively dead Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate. On the day of the arrests, the hacker group Anonymous attacked the websites of the Justice Department, FBI, White House and several entertainment industry companies.

Opponents of anti-piracy legislation have now shifted their focus to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a proposed international pact for enforcing intellectual property rights that opponents claim would unduly restrict civil and digital rights.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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