A not so holy grail

I've written a fair amount about piracy (search the term and you'll find 27 posts just this year) , but I've not covered anything related to the Megaupload case. In January, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation coordinated with New Zealand authorities to seize the company's assets, including storage systems estimated to hold 150 terabytes of digital files.

The U.S. government alleges that Megaupload profited by displaying advertising during illegal file-sharing activities. The company denies the charges, and its founder and executives have been fighting extradition from New Zealand to the United States.

As a story, Megaupload got lost in part because the initial seizure took place in the third week of January, when the debate about SOPA/PIPA was peaking. As well, the case against Megaupload remains pending, making it harder to comment on in detail.

Authorized under the Digital Milennium Copyright Act, the seizure seemed to underscore that new legislation was unnecessary. What we're learning now explains why SOPA was a bit of a Holy Grail for copyright owners.

Earlier this week, a justice in New Zealand threw out the warrants that authorized the raids. Characterizing them as overly broad, Justice Helen Winkelmann went on to say that sending copies of the digital files to U.S. authorities had also been done prematurely.

More than that, the justice ordered that authorities in New Zealand and the United States return those assets determined to be irrelevant to the case against Megaupload. While both sides agree that Megaupload's users shared many files legitimately, owners have not been given access to that content for more than five months.

I'm not defending Megaupload; they have legal counsel for that. But the recent rulings illustrate why SOPA (or its equivalent) is so desired by at least some copyright holders: it would reduce or eliminate the use of due process in taking down Internet content.

It's not that hard to create reasonably focused warrants that give prosecutors guidance and plaintiffs an opportunity to know the accusations. Even with those protections in place, governments and their agents sometimes have to be reminded to follow the spirit and the letter of the law. Imagine where we wind up if those protections are removed.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.