From file-sharing to prison: A Megaupload programmer tells his story

The Megaupload saga has a new chapter, as the only person convicted by the US in relation to Mega’s file sharing system has broken his silence. Tänavsuu’s article is an in-depth interview with Andrew Nõmm, who did programming for the site and service. Nõmm takes strong issue with Kim Dotcom — he asserts regularly the Kim did nothing to assist Nõmm in his legal efforts — as well as with the Estonian government for their lack of support.

This is a relatively unique piece, insofar as it discusses the experiences of people within the Kim Dotcom empire, and from the perspective of someone who has directly suffered as a result of their association with the project and company. It’s worth the read, if only to understand how the US system deals with persons found guilty of significant copyright violation and some of the inner workings of the Mega projects.


MegaUpload’s Shutdown: Financial Implications for Artists

Mike Masnick points out something that a large portion of the media missed in initial discussions surrounding the MegaUpload seizures:

There’s a key point in all of this that we missed in our earlier analysis about paid accounts at Megaupload. In the indictment, the government seems to assume that paid accounts are clearly all about illegal infringing works. But that’s not always the case. In fact, plenty of big name artists – especially in the hip hop world – use the paid accounts to make themselves money. This is how they release tracks. You sign up for a paid account from services like Megaupload, which pay you if you get a ton of downloads. For big name artists, that’s easy: of course you get a ton of downloads. So it’s a great business model for artists: they get paid and their fans get music for free. Everyone wins. Oh… except for the old gatekeeper labels.

There were certainly a large number of files that were potentially infringing – with the ability to ascertain whether something is or isn’t infringing being impossible to conduct automatically using digital systems because of legal ambiguities – but there were also many clearly non-infringing files. Those that were directly uploaded by artists for download were amongst this latter category.

While some artists who have already made it big might suffer a decrease in revenue/earnings, but still enjoy a life dedicated to creating new works, those who have yet to ‘break through’ will suffer disproportionately from losing an easy-to-use service that could generate some revenue. The smallest artists lose, the largest lose, and consumers lose. I’m not even certain that the labels themselves ‘win’, insofar as generating bad will likely hinders their ability to establish strong (positive) brand relationships with prospective consumers.


Skype, the FBI, and MegaUpload

In the aftermath of the MegaUpload seizures we’ll hopefully learn more about how the FBI gained access to Skype transcripts. As reported by CNet:

The FBI cites alleged conversations between DotCom and his top lieutenants, including e-mail and Skype instant-messaging logs. Some of the records go back nearly five years, to MegaUpload’s earliest days as a cyberlocker service–even though Skype says “IM history messages will be stored for a maximum of 30 days” and the criminal investigation didn’t begin until a few months ago.

Sources told CNET yesterday that Skype, the Internet phone service now owned by Microsoft, was not asked by the feds to turn over information and was not served with legal process.

The U.S. Department of Justice told CNET that it obtained a judge’s approval before securing the correspondence, which wouldn’t have been necessary in the case of an informant. “Electronic evidence was obtained though search warrants, which are reviewed and approved by a U.S. court,” a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia said.

Skype saves chat records with contacts in a directory on the local hard drive, which could be accessed by FBI-planted spyware.

While it wouldn’t necessarily be surprising if spyware was used, it would be interesting to see more details of this come to public light. Moreover, was the spyware/electronic access authorization acquired in the US and then the malware implanted on computers in foreign jurisdictions, or did it target local (American) computers? If it was implanted on foreign computers, were local authorities aware of what was going on and did they have to give their approval?

American Copyright Gone Power Mad

The fact that American copyright holders basically govern an arm of the US government that can, and is, shutting down website URLs at the TLD root is terrifying. That degree of power, however, looks like nothing compared to what happened in the recent MegaUpload takedowns. Consider the following:

The width and breadth of the global police action are simply massive, and are, quite justly, being painted as a massive over-reach. The full indictment goes so far as to mention Canadian bandwidth provider Cogent, whose headquarter employees were even held and questioned during the raids this week. Indeed, anybody who provided bandwidth, rack space or Internet services appears to have been held, questioned, and/or pressured in the global raids.


The policy of seizing domains and hardware first, without any adversarial court process, limits every person’s ability to contest American efforts to silence free speech. Moreover, the maneuvers taken impose American understandings of American law upon all people living around the world. Such actions not only makes associating with certain others, and certain behaviours, legally dangerous but given a willingness to even threaten major ISPs’ employees it suggests that even third-party data transit providers are at risk. America is (rapidly) developing a policy process and technically-informed system capable of censoring any communication, any speech, any uploaded data that its rights holders believe might damage those corporations’ economic interests.

In the 30s and 40s there was a name for this kind of behaviour: fascism. We’re now witnessing the final stages of what was intended to be the greatest republic in the world go the way of Italy. All that stands between the RIAA and running considerable elements of American law enforcement are the courts.

God save us all.