Other File-Sharing Sites: 'We're Not Megaupload'

Jan 27, 2012
Originally published on January 31, 2012 10:50 pm

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."

'Incentivizing' Piracy?

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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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's follow up now on last week's mega-indictment, a case that shutdown the website Megaupload.com for copyright infringement. The Department of Justice is calling this one of the largest copyright cases ever brought by the United States. NPR's Sami Yenigun went to see how Megaupload's shutdown is affecting piracy on the Web.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: It seems like it's still pretty easy for college student Bobby Azerbaijani to find whatever music he wants.

BOBBY AZERBAIJANI: So all I've got to do is go to Google.com, and it's called Smoke Ring for My Halo.

YENIGUN: That's an album by guitarist Kurt Vile.

AZERBAIJANI: And let's just stick in MediaFire.

YENIGUN: He's used Megaupload before, but that site's gone. Now he's using MediaFire, one of the many sites on the Internet where people share all types of files.

AZERBAIJANI: And you go to MediaFire.com, click download, and it's counting down eight minutes.

YENIGUN: Sorry, Kurt. It took Bobby Azerbaijani 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, Maryland, we found links to another album and two HBO TV shows. Now, Bobby Azerbaijani doesn't know who put those files there. But Ethan Kaplan pays attention to this stuff as VP of product for Live Nation, and he has a hunch.

ETHAN KAPLAN: I think 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. And it's not some, like, pirate in a back alley of the Internet trying to diminish the importance of the television show. It's a huge fan of "The Office" that wants everybody to see why they're a huge fan, because of this amazing show.

YENIGUN: But that's not to say there isn't any money to be made off of illegal content. The Mega indictment points to two primary sources of income for Megaupload: user subscriptions and advertising.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Congratulations. You won.

YENIGUN: People, trust me, you haven't won anything, and don't click on the pop-ups swarming the download sites. They're like a black hole of advertising. Now, a file-sharing company wants content that's going to pull eyeballs towards these ads.

KAPLAN: 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.

YENIGUN: Megaupload's uploader rewards program paid the people who put up the most downloaded content, says Live Nation's Ethan Kaplan.

KAPLAN: And so certainly incentivizing people to do that, it can be seen as inducing piracy. But there also could be seen as, oh, no. We're just inducing people to use us first for whatever it is they want to use.

YENIGUN: After Megaupload was taken down, other file-sharing sites like MediaFire and RapidShare tried to distance themselves from Megaupload's legal problems. RapidShare spokesperson Daniel Raimer says they're different because they don't have a rewards program right now.

DANIEL RAIMER: We believe that this was quite an incentive to upload popular content, which pretty often could be copyright protected.

YENIGUN: Raimer says he wasn't surprised that Megaupload was shut down. He claims RapidShare's 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 the shutdown of Megaupload, Live Nation's Ethan Kaplan doesn't see this one prosecution wiping out online piracy anytime soon.

KAPLAN: 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? I always like to say water finds its own level.

YENIGUN: And, Kaplan says, at the end of the day, if it's there and it's free, people will take it.

Sami Yenigun, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.