About a month ago, a federal grand jury issued indictments against Megaupload Limited and seven of its principals on charges related to copyright infringement, racketeering, and money laundering. (See: Of SOPA, the DOJ, & Anonymous.) A couple of weeks later, law enforcement officials conducted a raid seizing the defendants' assets, copying files from Megaupload servers, and shutting down Megaupload.com and its affiliated sites.
Allegedly, Megaupload is (or, rather, was) a collection of Websites from which one could easily access and download oodles of pirated content.
Score one, it would seem, for the good guys against those dastardly copyright infringers. Hooray!
Alas, there has been some collateral damage. It seems that, of Megaupload's approximately 50 million members (roughly the equivalent of the entire populations of Spain and Ireland combined), some weirdos actually used Megaupload for legitimate cloud-storage purposes, uploading and sharing their own personal content and collaborative projects (including, some readers may recall, the 24-Hour Novel that I worked on in May).
The fallout is that law-abiding Megaupload users have been left unable to access or retrieve their completely legal data and content.
Mercifully, that may change. The US Attorney's Office originally took a hard-line, unempathetic stance about what would happen to law-abiding citizens' legitimate files, declaring that the companies that hosted Megaupload's servers could begin deleting Megaupload files as early as February 2. The Feds have since softened on this point, opening up dialogue with Megaupload as to how to address the problem. Meanwhile, the host companies have agreed to not wipe Megaupload data until at least mid-February. One of the companies, Carpathia Hosting, has pledged to give seven days notice on its Website in advance of any reprovisioning of Megaupload servers.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit group, has inserted itself into the matter on behalf of aggrieved Megaupload members. Working with Carpathia Hosting, the EFF has launched a Website -- MegaRetrieval.com -- to collect information from innocent Megaupload members and help them get their data back. (Any reprovisioning notice from Carpathia will be posted on MegaRetrieval.com as well.)
"We're cautiously optimistic at this point," says Megaupload's attorney, Ira Rothken, "that because the United States, as well as Megaupload, should have a common desire to protect consumers, that this type of agreement will get done."
Fifty million members aside, retrieving this data is especially important to Megaupload itself because, according to Rothken, the files may be relevant to its defense in the criminal case.
Apparently, it's not as simple as just giving the data back to Megaupload and its member users. Although the US government is not physically in possession of any of the Megaupload servers (the FBI merely copied some of the data from the servers), it has frozen Megaupload's financial accounts. Consequently, Megaupload has no money with which to pay its server hosts.
Meanwhile, according to Carpathia Hosting's CMO, Brian Winters, in a press statement, Carpathia does not actually have access to the data on the Megaupload servers -- and never has.
It is a convoluted situation to be sure. Absent an agreement by the federal government to allow some leeway for Megaupload members to retrieve their legal data, the matter seems to be heading toward a class-action lawsuit to enforce the Website's legitimate members' property and free speech rights.
Quite evidently, that thing called due process is a pesky beast when it comes to enforcing these Internet copyright infringement cases. Little wonder, then, the push on Capitol Hill for SOPA.
— Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.