When the authorities from the United States government took aim at the web’s most popular file-sharing operation, Megaupload, last year, the rationale given was that it was a clearinghouse for copyrighted files. It sent shockwaves through the file server community, with many smaller such sites shutting down or restricting access in anticipation of spillage from the crackdown.
Now, according to a study by researchers at Boston’s Northeastern University, a sizabe minority of files on Megaupload were legitimate files that didn’t infringe on anyone’s copyright. It is estimated that the figure of “good” files erased by the federal government numbered in the tens of millions.
“We estimate that at least 4.3 percent of the files removed by the feds from Megaupload were legitimate,” the study found. So, when the US government requested the raid of Megaupload back in January of 2012, they were effectively throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In their defense, the Northeastern University study also noted that while ten million legitimate files were taken down, so-called one-click hosters like Megaupload were known for storing large copyrighted files from their many users. “The ability to share very large files, which is specifically advertised by OCHs, is mainly used for infringing content.”
What further dammed Megaupload and its sister-sites was the fact that they often rewarded uploaders of popular content; it doesn’t take but a moment’s thought to see that this both facilitates and perpetuates the uploading of copyrighted content. So, although many files were completely legitimate and used by people to store and send family photos, work, and other personal files, there was simply too much bathwater and not enough baby to keep the host online.
The exact breakdown of the numbers is as follows: 31 percent of all the files on Megaupload were determined to be illegal and infringed on someone else’s copyright. 4.3 percent – at least – were completely legal. The remaining 69 percent plus were indeterminate, and thus pushes the base percentage of legal files to an unlikely maximum of 69 percent. Such numbers may not weigh in favor of any future operations against a host by the federal government, and cause them to be more selective.