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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Megaupload Bust Highlights Absurdity of SOPA/PIPA

Posted By on Tue, Jan 24, 2012 at 10:35 AM

click to enlarge DigitalTremorsHeader_1.jpg
Last week, just as two ill-conceived anti-piracy bills were disintegrating in Congress in the face of a massive online protest, the FBI, with help from foreign governments, was busting Megaupload, one of the biggest sources of pirated digital goods.

The timing was interesting, though the feds say it was unrelated to the debate over SOPA and PIPA, the bills that, among their many other problems, would have held innocent third parties like search engines and payments processors responsible for the actions of pirates.

The bust, which involved not only the arrests of several of Megaupload's officers, but also the seizures of domain names, equipment, and other assets, proved that there are already mechanisms in place to target pirates. Even if new legislation is needed to strengthen enforcement or patch holes in existing laws, that legislation need not be insane and need not transparently pander to the loopy desires of the media industry.

The people who ran Megaupload were alleged criminals, and they got busted. That's how it's supposed to work.

Which is not to say such actions are without their downsides. They're

expensive, they're time-consuming, and some people get hurt who don't

necessarily deserve it. But that's the price we pay for living in a

constitutional democracy governed by due process of law. We don't hold

the phone company responsible when criminals use its network to plan

robberies; we shouldn't hold Google responsible when pirates have websites that show up in search results.

It's hard to sympathize much with the Megaupload customers who are now complaining that they lost data or money

when the plug was pulled on the site. There's little doubt that

Megaupload made the lion's share of its revenues from piracy, though the

service was used for legitimate purposes as well (the feds say the

operation's legit data-storage business was there mostly to provide a

"veneer of legitimacy," but that seems to be overstating the case).

What's more, anybody who used the service either knew or should have

known that it was mainly devoted to piracy.

Not that it's fair that people lost out. It's possible the feds will set

up a mechanism for returning data and fees to customers, but if they

don't, or can't, them's the breaks. It's not the cops' fault, it's

Megaupload's.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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Dan Mitchell

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