U.S. tries to silence MegaUpload lawyers on issue of user data

There's a chance that MegaUpload's lawyers may not get to address the court about what should happen to the company's servers.

The U.S. government says that some of MegaUpload's lawyers have a conflict that should exclude them from representing the cyberlocker service. Greg Sandoval/CNET

ALEXANDRIA, Va.--The struggle for control of MegaUpload's servers begins in earnest later today.

The courtroom of U.S. District Judge Liam O'Grady is expected to be packed with lawyers representing the many parties with some kind of stake in what happens to the billions of files stored on MegaUpload's 1,100 servers. Expected to appear are attorneys representing consumers, MegaUpload, the six major Hollywood studios, the U.S. government and MegaUpload's hosting service.

MegaUpload founder Kim DotCom 3 News

The U.S. government in January accused MegaUpload, founder Kim DotCom, and six other company managers of criminal copyright violations, racketeering, and money laundering. U.S. officials shut down the cyberlocker service, requested that the New Zealand government arrest DotCom, and are now trying to extradite him to the United States. U.S. officials have called the MegaUpload indictment the largest online criminal copyright case ever brought.

Hanging in the balance of today's hearing are digital files belonging to as many as 60 million people across the globe. Their files could be in jeopardy if O'Grady decides to allow Carpathia Hosting, the company that has housed the servers at its own expense since the service was taken down, to delete the information on them or possibly sell off the servers. Carpathia says the cost of caring for the data is too financially burdensome to shoulder alone and it has asked the court for relief.

According to Ira Rothken, the lawyer in charge of MegaUpload's worldwide defense, the first order of business this morning will be to determine whether MegaUpload's lawyers should be allowed even to address the court. Neil MacBride, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, the man who indicted DotCom, has argued in a brief filed Wednesday that Rothken and the newly hired firm of Quinn Emanuel should not be allowed to represent them in court.

That's right. There's a chance that MegaUpload's lawyers may not even be heard from on the server issue. MacBride's office argues that it would be improper for MegaUpload's lawyers to be heard when the defendants have yet to appear.

U.S. officials also claim Quinn Emanuel should be excluded from the case because of several conflicts. This is a juicy part because it certainly seems that the firm has a conflict. When the indictment was filed against MegaUpload in January, U.S. officials alleged that company managers attempted to unlawfully copy YouTube's videos in 2006.

Just so happens that Andrew Schapiro, one of the Quinn Emanuel lawyers expected to help defend MegaUpload, represented YouTube and Google after Viacom filed a copyright suit against them in 2007. The government has indicated it plans to call YouTube managers to testify as witnesses.

Lastly, the government implies there's no need for MegaUpload's attorneys to appear because in order for the company to reclaim their servers, MegaUpload needs some of the money that was seized from them to purchase them. That isn't going to happen, says U.S. officials. They say New Zealand has already released some money and giving the defendants any more would be unfair to copyright owners who believe that the assets seized rightfully belongs to them.

Eventually, the judge is expected to address the issue of what should become of MegaUpload's user data.

Rothken says that all the parties are in agreement that MegaUpload's data should be preserved save for the U.S. government. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology and Internet user advocacy group, is expected to ask the court that the data be returned to users.

Even the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the trade group representing the film studios, has asked the court to save the data. The MPAA has said it may need it should the studios want to file a civil complaint at a later date against MegaUpload.

And should MegaUpload's attorneys be allowed to speak, they will tell the judge that they can't defend their clients properly without the server data, Rothken said.

Update 1:34 p.m. PT The judge allowed MegaUpload's attorneys to address the court. Not only that but the MegaUpload team got part of what they wanted. Read the story here.

 

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