File sharing and hosting giant Megaupload was shut down on Thursday, and its founder, Kim Dotcom, was arrested in New Zealand after an indictment accused the site of violating piracy laws. Along with the founder, three others were arrested with two more currently at large, and the site is inaccessible; not even an anti-piracy warning can be found on its front page.
Megaupload.com was a site used for a variety of file-sharing purposes; many were legitimate, and it was endorsed by a number of celebrities, such as Kanye West and Alicia Keys. It was free for use, but also had subscription options for those who didn't want to wait for downloads and wanted more control panel options. The site was ranked #72 globally, according to Alexa.
Despite its legitimate uses, the indictment accused Megaupload of "costing copyright holders more than $500 million in lost revenue from pirated films and other content." The MPAA also stated that the "vast majority of content" on Megaupload violated copyright law, and federal officials called it a "mega conspiracy." Clever. It was also called a "worldwide criminal organization whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale."
A federal judge in Virginia ordered the seizure of 18 domain names affiliated with what the feds called the "Mega conspiracy," knocking the website offline. About $50 million in assets were seized and 20 search warrants were executed by law enforcement officials in the U.S. and eight other countries.
Groups like the RIAA and MPAA are prone to exaggeration, especially when it comes to anything that can make them appear more reasonable, and their pirate opponents more devilish. As of yet it is unclear just how much content on Megaupload consisted of pirated material, but if such a large site was shut down, there may have been adequate reason. Of course, this comes just one day after the already infamous online protest against PIPA and SOPA, which may spur people to see this as a sign of possible things to come.
Before its closure, the site maintained that the accusations against it were "grotesquely overblown," and that it would remain online. "The fact is that the vast majority of Mega's Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch," its statement said.
The truth of the accusations may yet be seen, and there is no doubt that Megaupload made plenty of money off its user subscriptions and ads. However, Megaupload is most certainly now offline, a scary reminder of how easily a site can be taken offline regardless of its size.