This little .jpg has shown up about three times on my facebook feed over the last two days. Have a look.
(Click me to embiggen).
That fellow on the far left, the one we’re supposed to feel sorrow and outrage for is a guy named Kim Dotcom, nee Kim Schmitz. Let’s first clear some air: Mr. Schmitz has not been sentenced to 50 years in prison. He was only arrested last week, and has not yet even been extradited to the United States from New Zealand, where he was placed in custody by police there. So there’s that. But there’s more here.
Kim Dotcom did not get arrested for “sharing” anything. Kim Dotcom was arrested for being the man behind the popular file upload/download site Megaupload, because Megaupload–according to the Feds–knowingly engaged in internet-based IP piracy and conspiracy of same.
Let’s understand what’s going on here. Megaupload is/was one of many sites that are known as “cyberlockers”. Others include Rapidshare, Filesonic, Mediafire, etc. These sites all have similar models for what they do and how they make money. They offer a service by which users can upload files. When the file is uploaded, the site generates a unique URL address which the user can then share with others who may then download the file. When users go to these sites, they’re typically assaulted with a variety of ads, popups, and perhaps even adware/malware downloaded to their own computers. Users who wish to download a file are normally given a choice involving a slow download, or a faster one available with a monthly membership, typically in the $10/30 days model. There are legitimate uses for such sites, but they are also a haven for uploaded copyrighted music, movie, and game files as well.
To understand what happened here, it’s also necessary to understand how these cyberlocker sites save money and space in bandwidth and storage. If you’re uploading a file, you may not be the only person who’s done that with that particular file, and in the exact same format. It would be inefficient for these sites to store all these exact same files as different files on their servers, and the uploading of these files likely clogs their bandwidth, so what they do is “hash” their files. Let’s say that you’ve uploaded a public-domain movie to a cyberlocker. That cyberlocker sees this, and simply gives you a unique URL for the movie file that you can share, but doesn’t have you actually upload anything. They know they’ve already got a copy in the same format and don’t want to waste the space on redudancy. Where this comes into play on Megaupload is that folks were uploading movies, music, and games that were under copyright. When Megaupload hashed the files, it would simply generate unique URL addresses for users to share, all of which pointed to the same file on their servers. So…if a thousand pirates uploaded a Radiohead album in the same format, (which happens; you, Mr. Pirate, are not the unique snowflake your parents tell you that you are), Megaupload would generate a thousand different, unique URL’s, but they’d all point to the same file.
Now we get to the problems. Youtube (which isn’t a cyberlocker, but which I included to prevent jackholes from commenting “What about Youtube!”)and various cyberlocker sites that aren’t in trouble have been diligent about removing content when a copyright holder complains about it. For right now, that’s enough to satisfy US laws; if you are a musician and see your copyrighted music being shared and want to stop that from happening, you file a complaint and the offending site removes the file. What Megaupload would do (and you can see this coming, can’t you?) was to remove the offending URL that had been complained about, but KEEP the actual file on their servers, with potentially thousands of other URL’s out there still pointing to it and making it a valid link. In seized emails and chatlogs, Kim Dotcom of Megaupload and various others in the company actually discuss this practice as a matter of policy and allegedly admit to fostering piracy through their site.
And so that’s bad.
But there’s more.
I understand that there are a lot of folks out there in the “Information just wants to be free!” camp. I get that, even if I disagree with it. Let’s be clear here, however. Kim Schmitz/Dotcom did not “share” anything. Mr. Dotcom made a ridiculously posh living off of it. By visiting Megaupload, he got money off of clickthrough’s from advertisers. He got money off of subscribers who paid him $10/month. He “shared” files in the same way that McDonald’s “shares” food: you give them money, they give you the goods.
How much money did this “file sharer” make off the copyrighted works of others?
Here’s his house. You tell me.
(If you’re struggling with this, Kim Dotcom’s net worth is estimated at $200 million USD)
There are legitimate and useful cyberlocker services out there, and this is not a condemnation of them as a blanket by any means. Even more than that, many of these sites are smart enough to put their server farms in European countries with more forgiving “fair use” laws than those in North America (Megaupload had a huge server farm in Ashburn, VA and also in Canada). What this is is a condemnation of one person and one site whose willful and gleeful scofflaw activity emboldens politicians to send legislation like SOPA, PIPA, and ACTA on through.