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Federal authorities took a center stage in the current SOPA/PIPA debate when they shut down the Hong Kong-based one-click hosting company Megaupload, alleging that it had illegally shared movies, television shows and e-books. Soon after, hacker group Anonymous said that they had shut down the Justice Department’s website, and have made threats against the online presence of lawmakers and agencies in Washington, along with media companies like the Motion Picture Association of America who were in support of anti-piracy legislation.
According to the Washington Post, Federal investigators say that Megaupload has earned its executives over $175 million in subscription fees and online ads while committing widespread copyright infringement totaling in millions in loss to intellectual property holders.
A total of seven executives were indicted, and though Megaupload’s founder was among them, the company’s chief executive producer Swizz Beatz was not. Beatz, a musician, is also married to singer Alicia Keys.
With a ranking of 13th most frequently visited site on the Internet and an average of 50 million daily visits, the Megaupload upload shutdown is a landmark case in online piracy enforcement.
“This action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States,” the Justice Department and FBI said in a statement.
The shutdown has also intensified a growing battle between Washington and the Web’s main players, from Wikipedia to Anonymous. This week many major website including Wikipedia and Google flexed their online presence with varying degrees of blackout that convinced many lawmaker to reverse their support of the bill. The cloak-and-dagger force Anonymous’ attack on the Justice Department’s site was announced in a tweet from an affiliated account.
The indictment finishes a two-year investigation, with charges ranging from copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering. Megaupload’s attorney Ira Rothken denied all charges, saying that the company would “rigorously defend itself” in a criminal case, and that “we believe we will succeed.”
Proponents of the anti-piracy bill believe that their legislative efforts will prevent the intellectual property theft that they allege sites like Megaupload engage in. Lead author of the anti-piracy bill Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) tells the Washington Post, “Today’s action by the Department of Justice against the leaders of Megaupload,com shows what law enforcement can do to protect American intellectual property that is stolen through domestic web sites.”