Fri January 27, 2012
Other File-Sharing Sites: 'We're Not Megaupload'
A week has passed since the landing of an indictment that shut down the website Megaupload for copyright infringement and racketeering. But it seems like it's still easy for people like college student Bobby Azarbayejani to find whatever music he wants.
He's used Megaupload before, but since that site's gone he's using MediaFire. It's one of the many sites on the Internet where people share all types of files.
All he has to do, he explains, is go to Google and search for something like Smoke Ring For My Halo, an album by guitarist Kurt Vile.
"You go to MediaFire.com, click download and it's counting down 8 minutes," Azarbayejani says.
Sorry, Kurt — it took Azarbayejani less than 30 seconds to find your record and download it for free. In the 15 minutes that I spent at his apartment in College Park, Md., we found links to another album and two HBO TV shows.
Azarbayejani doesn't know who put those files there. But Ethan Kaplan pays attention to this stuff as vice president of product for Live Nation, and he has a hunch that it's most often a fan.
"The person that uploads the HD digital satellite rip of the latest Office episode — it's not somebody trying to make money, it's not some pirate in a back alley of the Internet trying to diminish the importance of the television show," Kaplan says. "It's a huge fan of The Office that wants everybody to see why they're a huge fan because of this amazing show."
But that's not to say there isn't any money to be made off of illegal content. The Megaupload indictment points to two primary sources of income for the company: user subscriptions and advertising.
A file-sharing company wants content that's going to pull eyeballs toward ads that populate the site.
"Any editorial or content-based website always wants to be the first and the only place to get something, because that's how you become a destination," Kaplan says.
Megaupload's uploader rewards program paid the people who uploaded the most-downloaded content, Kaplan says.
"And so certainly incentivizing people to do that ... can be seen as inducing piracy, but [it] also can be seen as, 'Oh no, we're just inducing people to use us first for whatever it is they want to use,'" he says.
Sites Stay Away From Rewards Programs
After Megaupload was taken down, other file-sharing sites like MediaFire and RapidShare tried to distance themselves from Megaupload's legal problems. RapidShare spokesman Daniel Raimer says they're different because they don't have a rewards program right now.
"We believe that this was quite an incentive to upload popular content, which pretty often could be copyright-protected," Raimer says.
Raimer says he wasn't surprised that Megaupload was shut down. He says RapidShare has been fighting copyright infringement from day one, and that pirated content only takes up a small portion of hosted files.
Other file-sharing sites like FileSonic and FileServe scrapped their rewards programs and stopped users from sharing files with each other.
But even with Megaupload's shutdown, Kaplan doesn't see online piracy being wiped out anytime soon.
"Has it disrupted it before, when Napster was sued and when YouTube was sued and when Veoh was sued and when all these other people were sued?" he asks. "I always like to say that water finds its own level."
At the end of the day, Kaplan says, if it's there and it's free, people will take it.