Politics, Science & Tech, World

Megaupload and the DMCA: The Kim Dotcom Copyright Lawsuit

Copyright is important. But in the end, it’s mostly about money, not only for the creator but for major corporations. The Megaupload lawsuit is the best example of how far big companies will go to secure their rights and revenue in accordance with the DMCA. But what’s going on and who’s in the right here?

It is probably the biggest copyright lawsuit against the most wanted man on the internet – Kim Dotcom. The former hacker and entrepreneur surely cannot be described as the incarnation of innocence. Schemes that bordered on fraudulent behavior are a permanent part of his resume, yet the most recent lawsuit of the internet giant might take it one step too far.


Megaupload is a filesharing site, comparable with the early idea of cloud storage. Users, registered or not, were able to upload files to the Megaupload servers and could share the direct link to the file with anyone. Before long, this system invited internet piracy, sharing illegal copies of copyrighted material such as music, movies, and popular tv shows.

As such, Megaupload was a major disturbance for major companies in the music- and movie industry. While actions against individual uploaders were taken continuously, the main target for the industry always was to root out the perceived source of all evil. Which, in their eyes, was Kim Dotcom and the collective of sites under the Mega label. It spawned an unprecedented raid, lawsuit and extradition request that still lingers on and leaves more than just a few questions unanswered.

The Case Against Megaupload

It takes quite a bit to pressure the US government in pursuing a website and its operators across the globe, using a third party government (New Zealand where Dotcom resides) in the process. One that additionally messed up the whole investigation significantly. Megaupload was a multi-million business, allegedly making 175 million while causing further 500 million in copyright damage.

Apart from the disproportionate raid of Kim Dotcom’s mansion in New Zealand, illegal surveillance, and freezing of his assets, the whole investigation seemed to not make sense. The indictment of the site and its operators is based on copyright claims and subsequent allegations such as money laundering and fraud, trying to create a wide array of possible offenses. This increased the possibility for New Zealand to eventually find a charge to extradite Kim Dotcom and his alleged accomplices to the USA for.

Due to some major flaws in the case and Dotcom’s apprehension by New Zealand government forces, it looked like Kim Dotcom may be spared. Especially, since the quoted copyright infringement allegations, which the whole indictment was founded on, were not a crime in New Zealand at the time, thus making an extradition unlikely. However, as it stands now, Dotcom will be extradited on charges of fraud, the remaining question is when and if he finds another way to appeal the ruling.

A Case Against the DMCA

The indictment, in all its glory, pretty much claims Kim Dotcom and his colleagues knew of copyright infringements on Megaupload and not only tolerated up encouraged them. As they operated the sites, they must’ve been fully aware of the content that is on their servers and did not act on it proactively while also reimbursing uploaders for uploading popular content, which, allegedly, was mostly copyrighted material.

The keyword to pay attention to here is DMCA, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which was signed into effect in 1998. The DMCA intended to provide protection to copyright owners by preventing illegal use of their intellectual property. It also offered a safe harbor for site owners, making them not liable for copyright infringements of their users as long as they cooperated with rights owners to delete and remove copyright content upon request.

Megaupload: Full Compliance?

Megaupload did this in several cases, however, it is a frustrating endeavor to do so, which stems from the sheer number of files that get uploaded daily. And then there is the problem of validating if there is a legitimate copyright claim. Sites like Megaupload work in a way, that if multiple users upload the same file, only one instance gets physically saved on the server while all of them get their own access link for it. Say half of them are illegal copies, while five are legal copies that are not shared but only uploaded for personal safekeeping.

In order to get them removed the copyright holder would have to find out the five illegal copies and ask Megaupload to make their links unusable while retaining the file and keeping the legal links active. One can see the frustration and misunderstanding that practice would spark with copyright holders. This is one of the more obvious misunderstandings, which is mirrored in the indictment claiming Megaupload did deactivate links but ultimately failed to physically delete copyright material.

DMCA: A Flawed Law

When reading the indictment, it does showcase a certain degree of frustration with the DMCA, as it seems to have been followed by Megaupload. It also showcased a substantial misunderstanding with the business at hand. This is not to say that Kim Dotcom and his business partners didn’t know they were making huge sums of money with copyrighted material. They did and they probably embraced it. It looks though as if it was in compliance with the DMCA, which is truly an outdated law but still in place and failing all parties involved consistently.

While the DMCA does fail copyright holders trying to remove singular files with takedown notices while thousands more of those links appear daily, it also fails the consumer. Often enough those takedown notices have superior motives and ignore the validity of the copyright claim. A practice that has been called out as censorship on multiple occasions.

The question to ask is if it makes sense to try and persecute a person using a law that is not working properly to his advantage, no matter the outcome, or to change the law instead. The USA and the MPAA chose to go for a single perpetrator – which showcases further misunderstanding how the internet works. With the vanishing of Megaupload, countless other sites with a similar concept gladly took over their traffic and users to continue the same practice.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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