Posted: January 26, 2012
The now-shuttered website's uploader rewards program paid those who put up the most-downloaded content — what might be seen as incentivizing piracy. Now, sites like MediaFire and RapidShare are trying to distance themselves from Megaupload's legal issues and make clear they don't run a similar program.
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 has used Megaupload before, but because that site is gone, he is 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 eight minutes," Azarbayejani says.
Sorry, Kurt — it took Azarbayejani less than 30 seconds to find your record and download it 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, vice president of product for Live Nation, pays attention to this stuff, 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 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.
"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 including 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.
He says he wasn't surprised that Megaupload was shut down. He says RapidShare has been fighting copyright infringement from Day 1, and that pirated content only takes up a small portion of hosted files.
Other file-sharing sites, such as 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.
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