Only hours after a web-led protest of legislation (SOPA and
PIPA) that would give the Justice Department more power to combat burgeoning
online video piracy, DOJ Thursday announced it had charged seven individuals
from German, Slovakia, Estonia and the Netherlands and two corporations
connected to the Megaupload.com site with running an international organized
crime enterprise consisting of "massive worldwide online piracy" of
TV shows, movies, software, e-books and more.
According to the indictment, "for more than five years the conspiracy has
operated websites that unlawfully reproduce and distribute infringing copies of
copyrighted works, including movies -- often before their theatrical release --
music, television programs, electronic books, and business and entertainment
software on a massive scale." That announcement could cut both ways in the
debate over online piracy legislation, either indicating the scope of a crime
that bill backers say Justice needs more tools to combat, or indicating Justice
was able to crack down without new weapons critics say threaten the Internet's
openness and due process.
Megaupload.com advertised more than a billion visits and more than 150 million
registered users, 50 million daily visitors, which Justice says accounted for
4% of total Internet traffic. It estimated the economic harm at more than a
half billion dollars and said the conspirators had made more than $175 million
from illegal downloads.
According to Justice, Megaupload.com did not terminate the accounts of users
with known copyright infringement, only selectively complied with take-down
notices while telling copyright holders they had complied.
The individuals were charged with racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright
infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts
of criminal copyright infringement; they face up to 50 years in
prison if the sentences are consecutive.
Justice said four of the seven have been arrested in New
Zealand, with the others at large. It also
executive 20 warrants in the U.S.
and eight other countries, and a U.S. District court ordered the seizure of 18
domain names associated with the conspiracy.