When it comes to commercial file-sharing sites, few are as exposed as RapidShare. Listed by the entertainment industries as being among the world’s most notorious locations for pirated media, the company is certainly feeling the heat. In an attempt to correct what it sees as misconceptions about its operations, RapidShare has hired a prominent US lobbying firm and now appears to be reaching out to the entertainment industries to see them not as a foe, but a helpful friend. But how far is RapidShare prepared to go?
In their submissions to the Office of the US Trade Representative last year, both the MPAA and RIAA were clear. Switzerland-based file-hosting company RapidShare has one thing to thank for their meteoric rise to stardom – huge amounts of infringing material residing on their servers.
With a view to correcting this and other misconceptions about their operations, RapidShare took the unprecedented step last year of hiring Washington-based Dutko, the same lobbying firm retained by Google. The lobbying registration form filed in November clearly set out their aims.
“Develop and implement a coordinated government affairs/public relations program for RapidShare targeted at Congress, the Administration and the media to help counter negative attacks on the company from U.S. copyright interests,” it read.
U.S. copyright interests = MPAA and RIAA.
By ordering Dutko to counter the political efforts of these two organizations, RapidShare appears to be acknowledging that they are the biggest threat to its expansion or, more negatively, the biggest threat to its survival in the US.
But despite this rivalry, comments from spokesman Daniel Raimer suggest that the differences between his company and the content industry are not insurmountable, particularly when RapidShare is offering something they need.
“There are plenty of reasonable people in the content industry. Those people know that a file hosting company that is truly dedicated to fight online infringement may be of high value to them,” said Raimer.
“We therefore want to convince people in Washington and in the content industry that we are such a legitimate company. I would be surprised if anyone in Washington or anyone within the content industry is going to have an issue with that.”
This olive branch approach is not particularly new. Last year, leaked documents showed that RapidShare’s outgoing General Manager Bobby Chang had tried to curry favor with the entertainment industries by offering to distribute licensed content alongside the implementation of tougher measures to close the accounts of users who use RapidShare to share infringing content.
“We are more aggressively than before terminating accounts of users who have been caught uploading copyright protected content,” Chang wrote.
However, while a tougher line towards uploaders would be welcomed by the entertainment industries, the signs point to them seeking a more proactive response to the infringement problem. Last year RapidShare told TorrentFreak that copyright holders have been pushing hard for the company to install filters that will prevent users from uploading copyrighted material in the first instance, a prominent theme in the ongoing isoHunt case.
But just how keen is RapidShare to install filters?
Although in a different jurisdiction, if one looks at recent legal battles RapidShare has fought in Germany, the signs are that although it is prepared to take some anti-piracy measures, filtering is not one of them. After being previously ordered by a court to install a filter to keep certain ebooks off its servers, RapidShare was hit with a fine of 150,000 euros for failing to do so.
This week, the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf ruled that RapidShare does not have to install filters to stop an Atari video game appearing on its servers and that its current measures are adequate.
“The ruling demonstrates once again that RapidShare is operating a fully legal range and has taken measures against the misuse of its service which go beyond the level that is legally required,” said Raimer about that case. “We are confident that copyright holders will gradually come to accept this conclusion.“
So while RapidShare may have announced that it’s dedicated to fighting online infringement, its recent actions indicate that it would seek to fight the introduction of filtering technology, something the entertainment industries desperately want. Indeed, the company already feels that it goes beyond the requirements of the law and the comments by Raimer seem to show that the olive branch – and the line of cooperation – will be drawn right there.
It will be fascinating to see how and where this particular battle plays out, both in the legal arena and, perhaps more importantly, on Capitol Hill. RapidShare almost certainly operates entirely legally under current US law, and the company – with the help of its lobbyists – will be keen that the government doesn’t implement changes to alter that position.