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The Extinction of Megaupload

[ 64 ] January 31, 2012 |

Although SOPA and PIPA were defeated for now, the corporate-government attack on file sharing continues unabated. Most significantly was the government shutdown of Megaupload a couple of weeks ago. Regardless of an overarching bill ending filesharing, the media companies are using their full power to end the practice.

One can make a copyright argument that if you really want a Metallica album, you should buy it. I get that. But the ending of the entire practice has very real consequences. Take for instance, the now deleted site Holy Warbles. In response to the Megaupload ban, Blogspot has deleted many of the blogs that shared files. Holy Warbles was one of these. Holy Warbles was a great site that I sometimes used. It did not traffic in the new Chris Brown. Instead, it found obscure vinyl, largely from foreign artists that would never, ever be released on CD or digitally and made it available to people.

The blog Bodega Pop argues that this is akin to closing the modern version of a library:

Most notably, Owl Qaeda’s Holy Warbles, which first had its Megaupload content stolen by the FBI action. As if that weren’t enough, no doubt freaking out over the Megaupload action, Blogger simply shut his blog down, claiming multiple instances of copyright infringement. Of–we should be clear–expressive cultural artifacts that were either long out of print (and never to be reprinted) or so obscure as to be readily unavailable to anyone whose head is not a giant interactive encyclopedia.

The last thing I downloaded from HW was a rare, completely out of print album by Marie Jubran, a Syrian artist who recorded mostly during the 50s I think and who doesn’t even have so much as an English-language Wikipedia page. I have a lot of Arabic music from the period and a couple of related books, and I’d never even heard of her before visiting Holy Warbles. That is the sort of thing we’re talking about. Gone now. Not just the music, mind you, which is lovely. But an artifact that is now once again unavailable for, say, anyone studying the region and period.

Holy Warbles, and blogs like it, are–for all intents and purposes–libraries. That, really, is their function. Libraries that store things that not even the NYPL or Queens Borough Public Library have. (I should know; I’ve ransacked both for their CD and other media collections, which I–yes, you guessed it–immediately download to my computer. Will the FBI be visiting our libraries next?)

Indeed. Should the government confiscate actual libraries CD collections? After all, I could check out a CD and burn it to my computer. Isn’t that also taking money out of the pockets of corporate shareholders?

Comments (64)

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  1. actor212 says:

    Someone had to buy the CD to give it to the library, wouldn’t they?

  2. Icarus Wright says:

    I for one am glad to see Megaupload go. All those porn files were consuming my hard drive.

  3. HP says:

    It isn’t so much that the record companies don’t want us to pirate the latest Chis Brown — it’s that they don’t want us to listen to anything that isn’t the latest Chris Brown.

    It’s not about piracy, it’s about controlling the market. They want to limit the range of products available to just those products they own.

  4. TL says:

    I sympathize with the loss of users’ data and sites like the blog above and think that taking down Mega is a specious use of government resources. But, having read the indicitment, Mega and its officers deserve blame as well. It’s pretty clear from the facts in the indicitment that they didn’t even try to do a wink-and-nod about copyright infringement on the site but were actively encouraging it and rewarding users for it. In the end, Mega really did wrong by its users through its business practices, and that’s why it’s where it is today, versus, say Rapidshare.

    • snarkout says:

      This. (And I love the phrasing “had its Megaupload content stolen by the FBI”.) That sounds like a cool website, and I hope they get going again using Bittorrent or a less sketchy file upload service, one that doesn’t actually pay people to upload popular, commercially available music.

  5. el donaldo says:

    I miss Holyfuckingshit4000 which was very much like what I take Holy Warbles to have been, a place to get exposed to some out-of-the-way and worth-preserving vinyl, and CDs. Down I presume for similar reasons.

    I wonder now too about private music bittorrent trackers like Pedro’s that are in effect limited membership clubs that share and exchange music of interest to members. Pedro’s is I think based in Poland, so likely not too threatened, but it think it’s an interesting model – why would that not be considered like a library?

  6. Justin Runia says:

    What’s missing here is that the Holy Warbles blog could be put up by anyone, right now, if they were willing to pay for it. Asking a “free” blog hosting service to assume liability for your files is a bit much, don’t you think? As far as MegaUpload goes, you get what you pay for. Apparently they actually had some customers who thought they were purchasing redundant storage from professionals, when apparently MU didn’t even own the servers where the data was being stored.

  7. DrDick says:

    Should the government confiscate actual libraries CD collections? After all, I could check out a CD and burn it to my computer.

    Don’t go giving them any ideas.

  8. wengler says:

    Once you could create infinite copies of something for free, it changed the power relationship between media distributors and consumers.

    The MPAA, RIAA and others would gladly destroy the internet to take the industry back to the old model. The Obama administration through ACTA and broad enforcement seem to be helping a big campaign supporter try to do this. It won’t work in any internet that is fair and free.

    Meanwhile Dick Cheney is free to go where he wants.

  9. dougR says:

    I’m a frequent browser among a number of curated blogs hosting audio files of material that is out of print and/or unavailable in the “free market”, but perhaps still in copyright. A number of them lost their uploads when MegaUpload was yanked by the Feds.

    Now, when I say “curated,” I mean lovingly and enthusiastically shared by people of like mind, and when I say the material is unavailable by any other means, I mean that too. The copyright holders are “robbed” (to use the corporate content-speak jargon) of not one red cent by this activity.

    However, that these performances and works of notable quality and/or historical interest aren’t otherwise available should be considered criminal (or at least, disgraceful).

    I would like to see copyright law rewritten to set forth not only the rights of copyright holders, but also the RESPONSIBILITIES: namely, if you can’t be bothered to make your material available, charging what price the market will bear, you should lose copyright protection for that work.

    Too much rare and unique material is being sat-on by “dogs in the manger,” who are stupid, AND greedy, AND ignorant of the true value of the material they theoretically “own.” I don’t care about “Chris Brown,” whoever that is, but too many copyright-holders want to stuff their version of “Chris Brown” down our throats and simply let vaults of vastly more interesting stuff just sit there.

    • sparks says:

      Um, I don’t think I like the “what the market will bear” language. They could construe that to mean they can release one copy at an exorbitant price to maintain their copyright, a special “collector’s copy”. Some copyrights are close to worthless (most silent films). I also think that for studios to retain copyright, they must also have a complete copy of the material as originally issued. Maybe give ‘em a tax break if they donate material to an archives for unlimited viewing would be as far as I go to give them a break.

      • dougR says:

        Yeah, one of the phrases I edited OUT of my post for space was “make a GOOD FAITH effort” to make copyrighted material available. If the business model won’t support actual production of physical media (which some of us prefer), make material available as downloads, for a fee. SOMETHING.

        • sparks says:

          At a decent price (equivalent to popular media) I’ll take it. I still think they ought to lose copyright if they haven’t got a copy. There are some films out there where the studio has no copy, but a collector or archives does. Guess what the collector/archives has to do to show the film publically. That’s right, they gotta get permission. I’d burn a film or never show it rather than go hat in hand to those vipers.

  10. genjirama says:

    “One can make a copyright argument that if you really want a Metallica album, you should buy it. I get that.”

    “Once you could create infinite copies of something for free, it changed the power relationship between media distributors and consumers.

    The MPAA, RIAA and others would gladly destroy the internet to take the industry back to the old model.”

    There are lots of things about copyright laws around the world I really hate. But when I read stuff like this, I find myself in ever greater sympathy with the record companies. I can understand why record company execs decide that a significant portion of their consumers are not behaving in good faith and would steal anything not bolted to the floor. I’m not in the tank for the record companies, just genuinely disgusted by people on both sides of the battle.

    • dougR says:

      It’s not just record companies; it’s content producers and corporate copyright holders (and individuals too, I’m sure), plus the unions that cover employment in those industries.

      But It’s really difficult to get a fix on how bad the problem is, if it rises to the level of “major problem” at all–the astronomical loss figures the industry bandies about, when closely examined, don’t stand up to scrutiny (either there’s no identifiable source for some of these numbers, or the numbers include fanciful and self-serving ‘multiplier’ costs, or are based on research-for-hire which, surprise surprise, builds bogus data into an ‘epidemic’).

      My point is that copyright needs to be thought of as an issue of DUAL responsibilities: the producers to make the stuff available, and the consumers to obtain it legally. As it is right now, producers demand the US TAXPAYER to act as the producers’ police force, shutting down, confiscating, or removing not only copyrighted material but ALL material on a certain website, legal or not, which is NOT the property of the copyright holders, without even being required to show whether, or IF, copyright is being violated, or to what extent it’s even a problem.

      Content producers would do well to follow the example of the Pythons–they got tired of seeing cruddy, washed-out lo-fi copies of their skits on YouTube, and instead of going Defcon 1 on the posters, they made high-resolution clips available on a Monty Python YouTube channel, for FREE–and their DVD sales went up 23,000 percent. (That’s twenty-three THOUSAND percent.)

      Content producers love cockamamie numbers about how much ancillary revenue is lost when someone downloads out of the copyright stream, but they ignore the pull-along effect when a consumer sees a kickass video on YouTube, and then buys the album, or a bunch of albums. Doesn’t fit their narrative, you see.

    • sparks says:

      What with America’s history on copyright (we didn’t really observe them for books from other countries like Great Britain until forced), the multiple and retroactive extensions to copyright, and the concentration of these rights in so few hands, I cannot find sympathy for the holders at all. If we had a fair system, I likely would.

      Also, too, the extension and misuse of patents.

      • genjirama says:

        I root for the artists – I’m married to a fairly successful one. But the point is, dimwitted comments like the ones I highlighted make even shady record companies look sympathetic.

      • genjirama says:

        Ooops – I got my replies placed in the wrong location. The reply above applies to Substance McG. response below.

        I see a lot of comments around the net like Sparks’ – “It’s not my fault – the system is so unfair, I have to pirate music.”

        To which my reaction is usually, “Yeah, right.”

    • Karate Bearfighter says:

      Record companies used to add economic value to the musician-to-listener transaction. They created economies of scale in production and distribution that made private ownership of hard copies of music cheap. The advent of the internet and digital downloads has largely eliminated their role in this transaction. No one produces or distributes a digital copy, except maybe the hosting server. By attempting to maintain the same level of profitability in digital downloads that they had in hard copies, they’ve become rent extractors. The reason they’ve been fighting so ferociously in the courts and Congress is that any rational market in digital downloads would limit their profitability to something closer to their actual productive contribution to the musician-to-listener transaction. (I.e., next to nothing.)

      • This is dated but terrific.

        Industry rule number four thousand and eighty,
        Record company people are shady.

      • Jon H says:

        This would be more persuasive if people didn’t pirate indie label products and self-released material.

        Bitching about labels is just a way to rationalize being cheap.

        • Furious Jorge says:

          Yes.

          In what spare time I have (which is plenty, since I am one of those unemployed PhDs we keep hearing about), I run a microlabel (as-yet unprofitable) that works on a 50-50 basis with the artists on our roster. We split costs of studio time and promotion, I cover manufacturing costs for physical media, and profits are split down the middle AFTER I pay mechanical royalties off the top – so artists actually get the larger piece of the pie when they work with me.

          I’m about as far from the RIAA as you can get and still be on the “business side” of the music industry. And people still pirate and steal the music released on my label. This is not a simple question of greedy record labels versus poor put-upon music consumers – you can get good music inexpensively without too much trouble, and then the people who have made it available to you actually have some motivation to keep doing it.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            People are weird.

            I remember talking with a woman at one of my beloved’s concerts and she went on and on about how much her children loved the songs that they had downloaded all the free samples and played them over and over.

            I was working the CD table at the time.

            Now, I didn’t begrudge her the free download. Loss leader and all that and we’re generally very happy when people like the songs. And I certainly passed on the kind words. But it was still pretty weird. The woman certainly didn’t seem to feel guilty about not ponying up (and thus was gushing to assuage guilt). OTOH, I’m not sure why she thought I would find it so wonderful that her family liked the songs enough not to buy them…

        • Karate Bearfighter says:

          Believe it or not, I do pay for all of my digital music. It’s not about being cheap; it’s about knowing that the majority of the artists I listen to make their money off tours, tour merchandise, and cd tables — not retail cd sales or itunes.

          The chart at this link

          how-much-do-music-artists-earn-online

          summarizes what I have always (roughly) understood to be the breakdown of revenues on music sales. I welcome your explanation of how the 53% share of revenue on legitimate downloads is anything other than rent-seeking. That’s five times what the labels earn on sales of a hard copy, with even less added value.

    • I find myself in ever greater sympathy with the record companies.

      It’s the rare record company that deserves a sentence like this. The people to find yourself in sympathy with are artists.

      • Furious Jorge says:

        Honestly, the artists my label works with don’t know the first goddamn thing about marketing themselves. And many don’t feel like they should have to do it in the first place.

        Which is fine, because that’s where I am able to add some value. None of the people I’ve worked with know how to run a radio promotion, or have any kind of distribution at all.

        Take a closer look at the current state of the music industry. You may find that it’s not the “rare record company that deserves a sentence like” the one you quoted. The majors are dying. Their days are numbered, and artists know it. There are thousands of independent labels out there that treat their artists at least reasonably well and aren’t out to screw music fans out of every last dime.

        It’s not the ’80s anymore. Things have changed.

        • Karate Bearfighter says:

          No snark; I would be genuinely interested in your analysis of how piracy has affected your label’s business. It seems to me, (as a layperson,) that the existence of thousands of indie labels treating artists well is exactly what the majors are afraid of. I would guess, (although again, please correct me if worng,) that you do promotion and distribution at significantly less cost to the artist than the majors do. Do you believe that the costs of piracy to your business are greater than the costs of trying to compete in a market where the majors control most distribution outlets?

        • I think that’s a fair point; I’m out of the loop. But the charts, such as they are, are still full of major-label product, and they’re the folks who want to lock down the internet, and when I think of record labels I think of the guys who dominate the market and not the indies.

    • wengler says:

      Nice job writing something that references two different people’s posts and then ranting about how much you hate us without even giving the courtesy of identifying who said what.

      I stated a simple fact: The ability to copy and disseminate something for free changes the relationship between the producer and the consumer. If I could copy cars for free or food for free the same thing would be true. The internet is a giant copy machine. It transmits 1s and 0s to make your screen appear the same as the person that produced it. It is what the internet is.

      Now if you want to apply rules to the content of the internet you have to inspect it, this is the same for shit we all hate like child pornography or something as inane as dog pictures. The MPAA and RIAA have volunteered to be the censor. The lobbying groups of some of the most retrograde industries in this country want to be able to control what you see and hear on a worldwide network that they hate.

      Two headed coin and all that. Both are equally bad, etc.

  11. Curmudgeon says:

    The ever tightening copyright noose is much more of a modern version of the enclosures act.

    American attacks on file storage systems are akin to the burning of the Library of Alexandria in both motivation, justification and rationality.

  12. Lloyd says:

    I have long said that file-sharing is not unlike a public library-libraries make books and magazines available and that availability undermines sales & subscriptions. While not exactly the same [P2P duplicates the material], libraries allow copying of material from books& magazines without question, but the judicial system does not pursue these copyright infringements as it is not cost effective; subsequently, the law is no longer focused on filesharers themselves, instead concentrating on websites & ISPs [deeper pockets].

    • genjirama says:

      but the judicial system does not pursue these copyright infringements as it is not cost effective

      It takes more effort to go to your library, check something out, and rip it to your own computer – so it doesn’t happen as often. That’s why policy-makers consider it a less serious issue.

  13. Anonymous says:

    A lot of the stuff I watch simply isn’t available in America, in English.

    Have you tried finding obscure East Asian dramas in English here? When was the last time you guys saw the live-action version of Maou or Kimi wa Petto at Best Buy?

    I’m perfectly willing to buy these things on DVD. So, all you people holding the copyrights, make them available in English for me. Subtitles are plenty for this, and don’t take expensive voice actors.

    I’m not, however, buying a DVD in a language I’m too old to learn at this point. It would be beyond useless. Hence why I make use of the products of volunteer fan-sub groups.

    What these gouging capitalist pigs refuse to admit is that it’s their own fault I’ve resorted to this. Why can’t they bring me the entertainment I prefer in a format I can live with? I hate American TV and movies–why should I be forced to settle for such garbage, when there’s all kinds of entertainment out there for us to enjoy, from around the world?

    This is the problem with copyright–if the copyright holders don’t make their product available to people who want it over something so stupid as a simple written translation, then they’re failing to uphold their end of the bargain.

  14. Aquaria says:

    A lot of the stuff I watch simply isn’t available in America, in English.

    Have you tried finding obscure East Asian dramas in English here? When was the last time you guys saw the live-action version of Maou or Kimi wa Petto at Best Buy?

    I’m perfectly willing to buy these things on DVD. So, all you people holding the copyrights, make them available in English for me. Subtitles are plenty for this, and don’t take expensive voice actors.

    I’m not, however, buying a DVD in a language I’m too old to learn at this point. It would be beyond useless. Hence why I make use of the products of volunteer fan-sub groups.

    What these gouging capitalist pigs refuse to admit is that it’s their own fault I’ve resorted to this. Why can’t they bring me the entertainment I prefer in a format I can live with? I hate American TV and movies–why should I be forced to settle for such garbage, when there’s all kinds of entertainment out there for us to enjoy, from around the world?

    This is the problem with copyright–if the copyright holders don’t make their product available to people who want it over something so stupid as a simple written translation, then they’re failing to uphold their end of the bargain.

    • genjirama says:

      What these gouging capitalist pigs refuse to admit is that it’s their own fault I’ve resorted to this. Why can’t they bring me the entertainment I prefer in a format I can live with?

      This exemplifies the exaggerated sense of entitlement which pirates use to justify their actions. I like East Asian shows too, and found that, no surprisingly, English-subtitled products could be rare and expensive. So I learned a new language and now I’m able to enjoy the products legitimately and at low cost.

      • wengler says:

        At this point I’m going to have to assume you are an industry shill that gets pays to post.

        If this is the case than good luck to you.

        I’m sure you don’t get paid nearly enough.

      • Malaclypse says:

        So I learned a new language and now I’m able to enjoy the products legitimately and at low cost.

        Hard to believe that others don’t just do this. The payoff in smugness alone should make it worth it.

      • RhZ says:

        Talk about inflated sense of something…

        Your thinking is totally wrong. The producers/artists/whoever in the case you are talking about should be happy to have some fans in foreign countries.

        Yes, many will not pay him or her any money, but then some will, that’s more than they would get under any other system.

        Congrats on learning a new language just so you don’t have to pirate any content. Sheesh.

      • Darkrose says:

        I like East Asian shows too, and found that, no surprisingly, English-subtitled products could be rare and expensive. So I learned a new language and now I’m able to enjoy the products legitimately and at low cost.

        Are you seriously arguing that because the rights-holders don’t think there’s enough of a market in English-speaking countries to justify licensing their content, anime and manga fans should just learn spoken and written Japanese (and presumably get a DVD player that can handle non-Region 1 discs)?

        I’d be happy to pay a reasonable price to obtain a legal copy with a professional translation in order to support the artist. If that isn’t an option, then how does it hurt the rights-holder if I obtain an illegal copy of something they’ve decided not to make available to a particular market?

  15. Jon H says:

    I guess now we know what kind of labor Erik thinks doesn’t count.

    Factory labor? Protect ‘Em.

    Creative labor? Fuck ‘Em.

  16. Abby Spice says:

    Should the government confiscate actual libraries CD collections? After all, I could check out a CD and burn it to my computer. Isn’t that also taking money out of the pockets of corporate shareholders?

    Well, maybe. Torrenting does have a risk factor, so I in fact have gone to the school library, checked out DVDs, sat there and ripped them to my computer while I studied, and returned them a few hours later. I wouldn’t be buying them otherwise, and I do still buy DVDs occasionally (and I’ve only done this a handful of times), but I’m not the only one doing it.

    On the other hand, I only ever do that, or torrent, if something isn’t on Netflix instant/iTunes/Amazon. I don’t want to pay more money for Netflix, and I don’t want to wait to have a DVD shipped to me by either Netflix or Amazon, and stores no longer have huge selections.

    And sometimes if I torrent something I pay for it later–e.g. Doctor Who, which doesn’t hit iTunes for at least a day but which I want to watch immediately, so I don’t get spoiled. I torrent it an hour after it airs and then buy it on iTunes when it’s up, thus assuaging my guilt at stealing from the BBC…

    Anyway, I try to be somewhat ethical with my stealing. If it’s available for pay in a digital form, I pay. In this day and age, if companies aren’t making their content easily accessible for money, I’ll get it for free. Entitled? Sure. But consumers are entitled, as a bunch, and it’s the job of the companies to keep us happy, not the other way around.

    *Also, they need to realize that countries mean nothing in the age of the internet. The second season of Sherlock aired in January in the UK. It doesn’t air in the States until MAY. I know exactly no fan who hasn’t downloaded it. Even if they were willing to wait, they would inevitably run across big spoilers. What the fuck, BBC/PBS?

    • dougR says:

      This post, I think, illustrates exactly why it’s so difficult to come up with reliable statistics for what’s being called “piracy” (if by “piracy” you mean depriving a content producer of a sale by downloading illegally). Add up all of Abby Spice’s paragraphs, that’s a lot of “piracy”. But actual lost SALES? Maybe a couple, kinda-sorta, though it’s hard to tell.

      The “piracy” world is full of people who simply are NOT buyers, at any price. That’s not theft as I understand the term, it certainly is copyright infringement, or copyright abuse, but it’s highly debatable whether a content producer is hurt by it, since no actual sales are lost.

      But I also think there needs to be some sort of moral re-education about paying for stuff fair and square (assuming its availability) in this digital age. The “my kids love all these free downloads” kind of attitude is revolting, and I hate the idea that artists and labels like Jorge’s or those on my own favorite label, ArtistShare, lose revenue to illegal downloads. But fostering the necessary sensitivity to artists and labels’ HONEST labor ain’t gonna happen through a squad of Copyright Storm Troopers yanking sites willy nilly.

      • Abby Spice says:

        In my case, it’s gained sales, if anything. I first saw Doctor Who and Sherlock on torrents. Absolutely no chance I would have otherwise. I’ve since bought six seasons of Who and am getting Sherlock. Plus iTunes downloads for both once they came out. I don’t have a tv. But I buy box sets. Community and Parks and Rec are on Hulu, but I imagine I would have torrented them otherwise, and I’ve bought a collective five seasons there. (in case people don’t know, the average set ranges from ~$30 to ~$60. I’ve spent hundreds on this stuff. And I’m a college student,I don’t spend money lightly.)

        Also, it made me laugh out loud to hear you say I’m responsible for “a lot” of piracy. I never download music, and not even many movies or shows, as I prefer to use Netflix, iTunes, Hulu+, or Amazon. Most people I know (college students, or those recently graduated, plus a quick survey of my teenage brother’s friends) have downloaded/ripped/streamed far more. I’m not saying this to say I’m better or more moral than my peers or something. Just letting you know that I’m way, way on the low end of stealing.

  17. Ruby says:

    I came across this today, and though it might add a bit more context to why a lot of people simply CANNOT find it in themselves to give a damn about labels.

    http://www.dailytech.com/Major+Record+Labels+Forced+to+Pay+45M+USD+for+Pirating+Music/article20632.htm

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