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What will happen to the legit files on the Mega platform?

By | Published on Monday 30 January 2012


The focus in the ongoing MegaUpload saga may this week turn to the possibly millions of legitimate files stored on the rogue web company’s servers, or, rather, the servers of the American companies it outsourced much of its storage to.

As much previously reported, the various Mega websites were taken offline earlier this month by the US authorities, who also arrested the firm’s top executives who are accused of mass copyright infringement, money laundering and racketeering. The shutdown followed an in depth investigation by the Feds prompted by anger in the music and especially movie industries that the Mega directors, and especially its founder Kim Schmitz, were making millions out of an operation that relied heavily on the distribution and streaming of unlicensed songs, films and TV shows.

However, as the Mega enterprise’s bosses are sure to stress if and when the criminal cases against them reach the American courts, the company’s file-transfer service did have legitimate uses too, allowing paying customers to move their own digital files across the net, and to have back-ups of their own content safely stored “in the cloud”, as it’s almost still fashionable to say.

When the Mega servers were shut down with immediate affect when the US authorities swooped the week before last, that meant the firm’s customers lost access to their own files as well as all the unlicensed music, movies and TV shows they may or may not have enjoyed accessing via the Mega platform. What will now happen to those files is unclear, though many fear they may all be deleted, as soon as this week.

The problem is that Mega didn’t store its customers’ files on its own hardware, but on servers it hired from two American companies called Carpathia Hosting Inc and Cogent Communications Group Inc. The US authorities didn’t actually seize the servers hosting Mega’s files, rather disconnected them from the net, and took copies of some content to use as evidence of the web outfit’s copyright infringement when the case comes to trial. Carpathia and Cogent are now left holding all that data.

In theory they could try returning legit data back to the customers who uploaded it, but that would be a time consuming endeavour, and just hosting all the data in the meantime is an expensive business when the Mega companies – with their bank accounts well and truly frozen – are now unable to pay the two server companies their hosting fees.

Although Carpathia and Cogent are yet to formally comment on their plans, according to US media a letter submitted to court by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia on Friday indicated the two firms might now just delete all the data sitting on the servers Mega rented, starting the big disk wipe as soon as Thursday. The US authorities who shut down the Mega enterprise have seemingly washed their hands of what to do with the legit data stored on those offline servers, saying it’s a matter for Carpathia and Cogent.

Meanwhile, MegaUpload attorney Ira Rothken has confirmed to reporters that his clients are not able to pay its server providers to keep hold of any data because all the company’s funds have been frozen, though he added that he was negotiating with prosecutors to try to find a way to stop any widespread deletion of files, partly for the benefit of Mega’s former customers, and partly because he hopes to use the legit content stored on those servers in his clients’ defence.

Despite heightened fears that the big delete would start on Thursday, Rothken concluded by saying he was optimistic the content could be saved, telling the Associated Press: “We’re cautiously optimistic at this point that because the United States, as well as MegaUpload, should have a common desire to protect consumers, that this type of agreement will get done”.

As previously reported, the Spanish branch of The Pirate Party had already raised the issue of the legit files stored on the Mega servers early last week, threatening to sue the US authorities for depriving the web firm’s customers from accessing their own content, on the basis doing so breached Spanish laws on “misappropriating personal data”. Whatever the legalities, if deletion goes ahead, you can expect other branches of The Pirate Party and related organisations to shout loudly about this.

It’s not known quite how much legitimate content was actually stored on the Mega platform, but if even only a relatively small number of legitimate files are now lost as collateral damage stemming from the Mega shutdown, it’s certainly going to provide new ammunition to those who oppose new anti-piracy laws – such as America’s SOPA and PIPA proposals – on the grounds that protecting the copyrights of the few will have a negative impact on the legitimate web use of the many.

And if it turns out that a large number of people do lose legit files if and when the Mega servers are wiped, that might also mean that the Mega shutdown poses other problems for other players in the cloud-storage market. As previously reported, since the Mega swoop other file-transfer and storage companies have either removed those elements of their respective services that most tangibly enable copyright infringement, or blocked access to American users, or crafted statements to stress how their business is very different to that of MegaUpload.

But if word gets around that the cloud-based storage space you’re renting, partly to ensure all your files are safely backed up for eternity, might just be switched off overnight, then the whole concept of cloud-storage – a big growth market at the moment – might become less attractive to mainstream customers.