Megalomaniac Kim Dotcom is at it again. With a launch of a new campaign announced via an all caps headline screaming that “THE TRUTH WILL COME OUT!” on his website, he’s ratcheted up his assault on the big, bad U.S. government, the so-called “copyright lobby” bogeyman and everyone else who views him as the criminal thug that he is.
As part of his campaign to get out his (version of the) truth he’s published a “white paper” called “Megaupload the Copyright Lobby and the Future of Digital Rights.”
In it he claims the case against him “represents one of the clearest examples of prosecutorial overreach in recent history.” He takes particular aim at the White House, claiming his arrest was “propelled by the White House’s desire to mollify the motion picture industry in exchange for campaign contributions and political support.”
He goes on to claim that it’s a case of him and “digital rights advocates, technology innovators and ordinary information consumers on the one side, and Hollywood and the rest of the Copyright Lobby on the other.” He characterizes his highly profitable pirate website as a wonderful public service, with piracy only a minor concern.
Megaupload operated for seven years as a successful cloud storage business that enabled tens of millions of users around the world to upload and download content of the users’ own choosing and initiative. The spectrum of content ran from (to name just a few) family photos, artistic designs, business archives, academic coursework, legitimately purchased files, videos and music, and – as with any other cloud storage service – some potentially infringing material. [emphasis added]
How about some real truth about Megaupload? Until its takedown in January of 2012 it was the largest and most profitable repository of pirated content in the world. Contrary to claims made in his “white paper” Dotcom’s business model was dependent on content theft to drive traffic to, and generate income for, the site. The pirated content on Megaupload included music, movies, e-books and more–and represented the creative work of artists, filmmakers, authors and musicians across the spectrum.
For Kim Dotcom it’s easy to create propaganda that points to the big, bad MPAA or RIAA as the enemy…after all they are in the business of making money right? Well, the fact is, so is Mr. Dotcom and, unlike Hollywood, he doesn’t play by the rules. Why invest in content (and employ thousands to make it) if you can just steal it?
As an independent filmmaker I’ve had plenty of opportunities to witness first hand the piracy supported by Mr. Dotcom’s illegal enterprise, and it wasn’t pretty. Our film, like thousands of others, was easy to find on Megaupload as a free download or streaming in HD, complete with subtitles in various languages. Meanwhile it could be also be streamed or downloaded (with subtitled versions) on legit sites like iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Busk Films and others portals worldwide.
The difference between these legit online distributors and Dotcom’s Megaupload was that we earned income from our film’s distribution on the legit sites while it was Mr. Dotcom (and his uploading minions) that profited from our film on Megaupload. For indie filmmakers like us who don’t have theatrical releases, back-end distribution is the only way to recoup expenses. Megaupload’s pirated offerings forced filmmakers like us and other content creators to compete against FREE versions of their own creations. How crazy is that?
Despite his splashy spin minimizing the amount of “infringing material” disseminated through Megaupload (and Megavideo), the fact is that without stolen content, he would not be the “Mega” millionaire he is today.
How did the illicit Megaupload business model become a profit machine? Well, it’s helpful to think of a company like Amway. Amway’s business success popularized the multi-level marketing style pyramid business model (or scheme ) whereby the operators at the top of the pyramid recruit people to work for them. They, in turn, recruit more workers who, in turn, sell products to the public. Those at the top make money only if they can recruit, and keep, enough people below to do the actual work. Those doing the bulk of the work earn money, but at a much lower rate than those at the top. It’s the trickle up theory of profits.
Megaupload’s business was predicated on offering enticements to users (uploaders) to join this type of piracy-4-profit pyramid. This approach was essential to maximizing the number of visitors to the site. Another essential part of this equation was making sure the UCG (user generated content) that would attract eyeballs. Sorry, but your ” family photos, artistic designs, business archives” wouldn’t do the trick. No what better UGC carrots than popular movies, books or music? Dotcom didn’t seem too worried about copyright thanks to the “safe harbor” provision of the DMCA that allow UGC sites to easily look the other way (plead ignorance) when it came to vetting infringing content.
In order to set this eco-system into motion, Megaupload lured its worker bees. Simply put, the more downloads users generated for each file, the more money/rewards they earned. These rewards precipitated the next, and most insidious stage of piracy—the viral spread of infringing links. With dollar signs in their eyes, Megaupload’s affiliate armies took their links and posted them on web Warez forums far and wide. The more Megaupload links they “shared” across the web, the more money they made.
In other words, Megaupload created, and was dependent on, an army of affiliates to do the dirty work for them. The scenario enabled Megaupload (and dozens of cyberlockers modeled after them) to shield themselves from legal liability, while their servers were simultaneously receiving thousands of (stolen) files every day–fresh content sure to attract new (and returning) customers.
Though the site claimed to respond to takedown requests, Megaupload was in fact playing a shell game, by not removing the actual infringing files and instead generating fresh links to replace those removed via the DMCA process. When Megaupload was first taken down in 2012 I wrote a blog post about this and put together a short video demonstrating how this worked (below).
It’s also important to remember the impact Megaupload’s business model had on encouraging and sustaining piracy profiteering across the web. It’s takedown marked a significant turning point in the fight against online piracy profiteering. As I wrote in an earlier post in response to the launch of Kim Dotcom’s new site Mega:
…when U.S. law enforcement took his popular Megaupload offline a year ago, it marked a significant turning point in the battle against online piracy. Since then real progress has been made. Copy-cat sites that modeled the success of Dotcom’s business model closed their doors. At the same time, more options for timely and legitimate online distribution of movies and music emerged–options both profitable for creators and affordable for consumers. Advertisers and payment processors have also stopped partnering with some remaining pirate cyberlocker sites, diminishing their profits and popularity. Other companies, such as Google, have also had to address their role in aiding, abetting and profiting from piracy. Overall, the lure of online piracy as a cottage industry has been greatly diminished.
Kim Dotcom is not Robin Hood and he’s not a hero. He’s a (wealthy) thief who, thanks to technical know-how and a black market business acumen, was able to exploit the work of content creators across the globe for his own, personal gain. Dotcom’s lies cloaked as “truth” may gain him sympathy from his acolytes, but it won’t change the fact that stealing from others isn’t sharing, it’s theft.