When US law enforcement officials shut down the online storage locker Megaupload they also scrubbed nearly 11 million perfectly legal files that were saved on the site, according to a new study conducted by Northeastern University in Boston.
Before it was taken offline, Megaupload – with founder Kim Dotcom at the helm – attracted tens of millions of visitors each day. Users flocked to the site because it provided a venue for file hosting, although Megaupload quickly gained notoriety for the number of music and movie files freely available there without the consent of the copyright owner.
Such violations were and remain illegal under US law, inspiring law enforcement to suddenly take all files hosted on the site offline. Until now, US authorities have asserted that most if not all of the files on Megaupload were the result of piracy and have denied that any legitimate content had become collateral damage.
Investigating for evidence to the contrary, researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts examined millions of files from Megaupload and four similar cyberlockers: FileFactory, Easy-share, Filesonic and Wupload, as well as Undeadlink. They then used a link checker to extract metadata from each site. Next, while using a variety of controls, they manually looked through a random sample of 1,000 files from each site to find how many were legal.
The methodology and results were published in a document titled “Holiday Pictures or Blockbuster Movies? Insights into Copyright Infringement in User Uploads to One-Click File Hosters.” Scholars from France and Australia also participated.
“We assess the status of these files with regard to copyright infringement and show that at least 26 percent to 79 percent of them are potentially infringing,” the abstract stated. “Perhaps surprising after the shutdown by the FBI for alleged copyright infringement, we found Megaupload to have the second highest proportion of legitimate files in our study.”
A specific look at Megaupload revealed that at least 31 percent of all uploads constituted infringing content. An estimated 10.75 million, or 4.3 percent, of the 250 uploads taken offline were non-infringing. The legality of the remaining 65 percent of files remains undetermined.
FileFactory was found to have the highest percentage of pirated files with 14 percent, and Wupload and Undedlink tied for the fewest at 0.1 percent.
The study did confirm that online storage lockers, also called “one click” file hosting services, are primarily used to access illegal content. There is ample proof, however, that US copyright enforcers removed a plethora of legal material. Tobias Lauinger, one of the authors of the paper, told TorrentFreak that the massive quantity of legitimate files was one of the reasons the research was necessary.
“What I find most interesting about our results is that they support what many people were already suspecting before: That Megaupload was partially being used for ‘illegal’ file sharing, but that there were also millions of perfectly legitimate files stored on Megaupload,” he said.