MPAA wants more criminal cases brought against 'rogue' sites

A Paramount Pictures exec says the studios continue to make criminal referrals against cyberlocker services dedicated to enabling piracy, and he identifies the top five "rogue" sites.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read
A graphic obtained from a Paramount Pictures executive showing the top 5 'rogue' cyberlocker sites and the page views they generate. Paramount Pictures

NEW YORK -- In the wake of the MegaUpload indictment, the top Hollywood film studios are pushing for more cyberlocker services to be charged with crimes.

"We continue to make criminal referrals," Alfred Perry, vice president for worldwide content protection at Paramount Pictures, said during a panel discussion at the On Copyright conference here yesterday. Later he added that "more than 41 billion page views (yearly) are generated by the top 5 rogue cyberlocker services. That's five page views for every person on the planet."

Alfred Perry, Paramount Pictures' vice president of worldwide content protection. Greg Sandoval/CNET

After the panel, Perry provided CNET with the names of the top five "rogue" cyberlocker services. They are (in no particular order): Putlocker, Wupload, Depositfiles, FileServe, and MediaFire. He did not say whether any of those sites are under investigation or face criminal prosecution, so it's still unclear whether the MegaUpload case will trigger a wave of criminal copyright prosecutions.

His comments, however, are consistent with what my film-industry sources have told me since MegaUpload founder Kim DotCom was tossed in a New Zealand jail in January. There's no question that the film studios and major music labels want more arrests made and to link some forms of Internet piracy to criminal conduct.

In a letter sent to CNET on Sunday morning, Tom Langridge, a MediaFire co-founder, has denied that his company is "rogue" or that it violates copyright law (You can read Langridge's full letter here).

A representative for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, the office that filed an indictment against MegaUpload, declined to comment.

Copyright owners have been engaged in a decade-long battle against online piracy and are looking for a way to shut down the latest iteration of illegal file-sharing: Cyberlockers. Some of the services are absolutely legitimate, but others give users access to digital lockers where many store pirated music, movies, TV shows, videogames, and other media. The content of these lockers is then made accessible to anyone. Large media companies claim that many of the most trafficked cyberlocker sites exist only to profit from the piracy.

They accuse operators of trying to disguise their services as legitimate cyberlockers so they can take refuge in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's safe harbor, a provision designed to protect qualifying Internet service providers from liability for infringing acts committed by users. But some of the top cyberlocker services are operated by outlaw gangs and are just part of a larger criminal enterprise, according to the trade groups of the film and music sectors, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

The MPAA's antipiracy unit played a big role in helping to inform the U.S. Department of Justice about MegaUpload's operations when the DOJ first began investigating the company in 2010, sources told CNET.

That investigation led to a police raid of DotCom's New Zealand home. The United States indicted DotCom and six other company managers for criminal copyright violations, racketeering, and wire fraud. U.S. officials hope to bring DotCom and the other defendants to this country to stand trial. An extradition hearing is scheduled for August.

Ira Rothken, one of MegaUpload's lawyers, argues that the service is no different under the law than YouTube or any other legitimate service provider. The company is protected by the DMCA and the U.S. case is without merit.

Following Perry's comments, one studio representative reminded me that sending pirates to jail is not new. People in the business of mass producing counterfeit goods, such as CDs, VHS tapes, and DVDs have been prosecuted for decades. Up to now, however, the entertainment sectors have typically filed civil suits against file-sharing services they accused of enabling piracy. The list includes Napster, Veoh, and even Google's YouTube.

The film studios and U.S. government allege MegaUpload was less like those services and more comparable to the mass producers of pirated content.

The arrest of DotCom and shut down of MegaUpload certainly sent a message to some of the company's competitors. The blog TorrentFreak reported that soon after the raid on DotCom's home, about nine similar services attempted to limit the amount of pirated content on their sites, and several others shut down completely.

Update, April 1, 5:30 a.m. PT: To include comments from MediaFire.