While the closure of Megaupload was certainly a major news story unto itself, the effects of it have gone far beyond just one site (and its sister properties). According to Torrentfreak, over a dozen other cyberlocker-style sites have either closed, eliminated their sharing features, eliminated affiliate programs, deleted files or removed accounts.
The cyberlocker scene, for the lack of a better word, is a bloodbath and it doesn’t show signs of letting up in the immediate future.
However, for right now, here’s a sample of what’s going on as of today, January 24th.
(Please note that this list is the most complete I can make it, if I don’t provide a particular link for a claim, I got the information from the above Torrentfreak article or the comments. Leave further sites to list in the comments and I will add them to the list.)
- Enterupload (link)
- Minichan (Disabled upload service)
Stopping 3rd Party Sharing
Widespread Banning and/or Deletion (Reported)
- Mediafire (link)
Ending Affiliate Program (Rewards for Uploaders)
Blocking US IP Addresses
What’s clear from this ever-growing list is that the cyberlocker scene is in full-on panic mode. The shuttering of Megaupload and the arrests of its owner and employees has shaken the industry deeply. Only two sites, Mediafire and Rapidshare, have remained truly defiant saying that they are legitimate businesses not built on the backs of piracy (though, as the list above shows, Mediafire has apparently been involved in some mass-deletions).
So what does this shakeup mean for the cyberlocker scene and, more importantly, for you both as a user and a content creator who may have been infringed using one of these services? The answers are still being settled but there are a few things we can be certain of now.
What’s Happening to the Cyberlockers?
Over the past few years, the cyberlocker scene has grown by leaps and bounds. Again, acccording to Torrentfreak, in August of 2011, 7 of the 10 largest file sharing sites were cyberlockers, including four that were larger than The Pirate Bay. However, these were just the tip of the iceberg as the cyberlocker scene had also grown wildly in the number of sites with literally hundreds of smaller and often fly-by-night competitors opening and closing.
This growth was propelled by affiliate programs that rewarded uploaders for files that were downloaded m large number of times. While it didn’t matter what the file was, meaning it could be a legitimate file, the most popular content on these services tended to be infringing content, in particular from major copyright holders. These programs helped not only ensure a steady stream of incoming files to share, but a built-in promotion engine that drew links to these sites.
Though some of these sites have attempted to be as legitimate as possible, many, if not most, attempted to straddle the line between what was legal and illegal. As I pointed out in my previous article on Megauploads DMCA policies, this would often involve deceptive tactics to avoid fully removing infringing work, not banning repeat infringers and more according to the indictment.
However, with the closure of Megaupload, the practices of the industry are under a very intense microscope. After all, Megaupload was not just another file sharing service, it was the leader at the time. This has left many of the other services to wonder if they might be next.
The problem is that, all we have against Megaupload is an indictment, not a court ruling. Without a ruling, there’s no way to know what, if anything, Megaupload did that was actually illegal. As such, the other sites are merely guessing as to what they need to do to stay out of the crosshairs of the FBI and other government agencies.
This, in turn, is causing a period of great turmoil where it seems to be “every man for himself” in the industry and everyone is doing what they think is best for their site and their business.
What This Means for Cyberlocker Users
If you’re a user of cyberlocker sites, whether for legitimate or unlawful purposes, the immediate future is one of great turmoil. Even the services that don’t appear to be affected right now are, almost certainly, paying much closer attention to things behind the scenes and will be working more actively to address copyright issues. Likewise, many others are still likely getting legal advice and may be making decisions over the next week or two.
In short, these are mostly just the sites that made immediate reactions, other changes and shifts are likely to follow.
While the situation will settle down some in the coming weeks, there won’t be any real resolution or stability until the Megaupload case produces some precedent, offering some practical guidance to similar sites.
In the meantime, these sites know they are under the gun of various government agencies around the world and that their file sharing scene is very much vulnerable to government action.
What This Means for Content Creators
For content creators, large and small, who are working to get unlawful content off of cyberlocker and other file sharing sites, you’ll most likely find that the companies behind these sites are a bit more cooperative than usual. Not only are they proactively deleting infringing content in many cases, but I expect most will pay closer attention to their takedown processes.
The longer-term impact is going to depend on what happens with the Megaupload case once it reaches court. Given the resources available to Dotcom and his company, it seems likely that they will put up a good fight. Even if they end up losing, any points they win on could become green lights for the rest of the industry.
However, in the mean time, we are going to see a divide in this industry, or rather, the sharpening of an existing divide. There’s going to be a growing division between the sites that work to remain legal and those that openly flout the law. We are already seeing this somewhat with the building of a cyberlocker by supporters of Anonymous and we’re likely to see others jump in as well.
Simply put, as Dotcom proved, the money is simply too good to stay away and others will inevitably jump in while taking extra precautions to avoid Megaupload’s fate. In that regard, the cyberlocker industry will largely mirror Bittorrent sites, which followed a same pattern following a series of Bittorrent raids and seizures in the early-to-mid 2000s.
In short, if you’re planning a major anti-piracy campaign that involves working with cyberlockers, now is likely the best time to get started.
To be clear, this is not the death of cyberlockers, not for legitimate uses and not for piracy. While it’s true that methods of swapping files have come in and out of vogue over the years, the old methods are still around. People currently trade files regularly on Usenet and even buy bootleg DVDs, there’s no reason why this method of file sharing will go away.
The only thing that’s going to push it into the background is a different method of sharing content that is designed to address the issues with cyberlockers. While there’s nothing on the immediate horizon, as the Napster shutdown showed, a new solution is never far behind. So, even if cyberlockers are fundamentally weakened to the point of near-uselessness, it will only be the calm before the next storm.
The best thing any content creator can do is not look at what happened yesterday but focus on what’s going on today and what will likely be going on tomorrow. That’s the only way to get even remotely ahead of this never-ending curve.
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