July 2, 2022

MegaUpload – The Good, The Bad, The Dodgy.

So, RIP MegaUpload.

As one of the most prominent file-sharing websites on the internet, on Thursday the United States Department of Justice effectively seized and closed down the website and began the task of investigating and confiscating the wide range of goods the business had bought with their money – ranging from works of art to hideously expensive vintage cars.

However, the reasons are becoming clear that the United States will no longer tolerate the sharing of illegal files.

This, I have no qualms about. Again, I cannot tolerate piracy in this day and age – games are not that expensive boys and girls, and you don’t need to buy or play every single game to get a sense of how the market and industry are performing.

That said, it is also true that MegaUpload also catered to a very legal base of people sharing their own movies, games, programs and other files. Because it was free for 90 days of storage, or indefinite for a small fee, many perfectly legitimate individuals who shared perfectly sound files found themselves unable to access, update or back up the files that they had uploaded to the website.

I will disregard the quite blatant and questionable usage of profits that the company has clearly been involved with – expensive quarter-of-a-million dollar cars aren’t the most sensible usage of money, nor are “tastefully nude” works of art. That kind of excessive luxury naturally reflects very poorly on those who ran the site, and calls a big part of their business into question as to how and where the money came from – as well as why they felt this was a good use of their profit margins. The reason I will disregard this is their business model, on the surface at least, was perfectly legal and, records show, made them millions upon millions of dollars in pure, unadulterated profits. With that much cash flowing through your accounts, even the most rational of us might be tempted into buying a ten-foot solid gold artwork shaped like a phallus.

I can’t obviously disregard the concept that file sharing sites do share on occasion illegal content. That’s par for the course sadly, and try as you might to police it all, inevitably things fall through the cracks. There will be a willful minority of people out there set on doing something dodgy, immoral or illegal. That’s the human species for you – in reality and in the virtual world, we are still human beings and human beings are prone to sometimes fallible flights of fancy.

However, one does need to ask the question here; haven’t the US Department of Justice got better things to do than crack down on a site that was at least half-legal?

And not only that, but there appears to have been no warning or attempt to allow MegaUpload to defend themselves. Bish bash bosh, they go to jail. End of discussion. That’s a serious concern for the world. Justice is blind, but never has it been so deaf, dumb and brain-damaged as well.

Let us also take a moment to consider this idea of sharing content.

The internet still has some regional limitations, for example – here in the UK, I cannot access many US network sites for their content – not even if I am willing to pay, or sit through the reams and reams of advertising that often accompanies these shows – so I am missing out on the US networks witholding fantastic shows from me, like Penn and Teller’s Bull****. Likewise, the BBC iPlayer service is often restricted to the rest of the world – so great shows like Sherlock and the amazing documentary Mark Gatiss: A History of Horror aren’t available.

The reasons behind this are fairly obvious – money.

The BBC, it is no secret, sells much of their content to BBC Worldwide (not one and the same for tax purposes I am told!) for further commercial sales in the US, and to make profits on the DVD sales and merchandising. Similar things with the UK, where we are reliably informed that many shows end up on an ever-fragmenting series of channels that we can’t possibly find the show we want to watch, because the channel is either owned/run by a network (we have CBS here split across multiple channels, also FX, Universal, PBS etc.) or because they want to sell the licencing rights to someone – for a serious chunk of change. We used to get Sanctuary on ITV2, a company funded by advertising. Then it was bought out for Watch!, which is a subscription-based service, and often shows this program at 2am. Seriously, it is ridiculous.

When it comes to Television shows at least, the borders are slowly and surely being broken down to the point that many channels, companies, broadcasters and networks are going to have to accept that they no longer have the ability to control who sees their content and at what point. With the advent of TiVo and other recording devices, we can set up schedules to get exactly the content we want. Replay services let us catch up on what we want when we want, and Firefox has a very public workaround that allows anyone, anywhere, to access television from any network at any point.

The television world has been trying to hold onto its content for years – but with the internet, the rules have changed. People WANT to watch Penn and Teller (I love those guys so much it physically hurts, WHY HAVE WE ONLY JUST HEARD OF YOU OVER HERE?!) and Sherlock. And Top Gear and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

So many people are already using the workarounds, and sharing shows with each other in an exchange – one new episode of Damages for one new episode of Law and Order UK.

The longer these companies resist change, the worse it will get – to the point that they will push it underground, like music a decade ago, into a seedy world filled with porn ads and viruses and people will STILL be prepared to go through the risk to get what they want.

That’s right. Even though these services will be filled with viruses, trojans and spyware-ridden downloads, people will still brave them to get what they want.

Isn’t it maybe time then that we stopped being possessive? Advertising is advertising, and a few extra hits from another country likely isn’t going to hurt in the long-run. Indeed, opening up these boundaries may even prove – shock of all horrors – profitable, and mean some good shows get the coverage and support they deserve!

The Department of Justice shouldn’t be getting involved in protecting greedy companies who want to blame everyone else for their own petty misunderstandings and mistakes. Nor should we, as individuals, encourage sites to rely on piracy and illegal files. That’s just as bad.

After all, we’re not the enemies here. We have money, we’re willing to give money in sub fees, or sit through advertising, for a good show.

That said, the reason we have less money is because the US and other countries around the world continue to refuse to prosecute and legislate against the greedy banking sectors that took the money of innocent investors and bank accounts and squandered it in a way that caused a global economic crash, leaving millions of people without savings, pensions, investments, homes and businesses as the money they thought they had been spending into these accounts disappeared into thin air.

So that’s legal. Wiping billions out of our accounts is perfectly okay – or rather, there isn’t much we can do about it, or the billions they pay themselves in bonuses for doing such a crummy, useless job. But wanting to watch a show on YouTube from the states in Australia – that’s not okay, and they will arrest anyone who attempts to allow this without so much as a defense. Want to import a game, or download a game, same deal – you don’t have any rights in this, or any say, or any defense.

Am I the only one who wonders where our priorities went?!


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