In common with every file-sharing, video hosting or other digital storage facility on the web, RapidShare has been used by some of its members to host infringing material.
Just like Google-owned YouTube, RapidShare has been sued for the actions of its users and just like the video giant, has prevailed in court.
But despite the fact that in May 2010 the District Court of California ruled that RapidShare could not be held liable for the actions of its users (after all, RapidShare isn’t uploading the content and always responds to takedown requests), in November that very same year the company had an unwelcome surprise.
In a response to a request from the Office of the US Trade Representative, the RIAA submitted their list of foreign “notorious markets”. RapidShare was included but strangely, just one year later in 2011’s submission, the file-hosting company had been removed.
So how does a site go from being reported as supposedly one of the world’s worst infringers to being given a tacit clean bill of health?
RapidShare attorney Daniel Raimer tells TorrentFreak that their twin approach was to change the negative perception of the company and show, contrary to some rightsholder claims, how the file-hoster really cares about copyright protection.
“We decided to increase our efforts to explain what RapidShare really stands for and how we are spearheading the industry’s efforts to combat copyright infringements,” says Raimer.
In December 2010 it became clear that RapidShare would be taking these efforts right to the very top when the company hired Washington-based lobbying firm Dutko. Their mission:
“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.”
Time would show this was money well spent. One year later and the pressure was off.
“The fact that we were not included in the 2011 list is a result of these educational efforts,” Raimer explains.
But does the simple hiring of a lobbying firm guarantee success for a file-sharing site and enable it to avoid a Megaupload-style doomsday scenario? Well, not quite. Convincing rightsholders that protecting their interests is also part of the plan seems equally important.
So, through the prism of the Megaupload takedown and some of the accusations leveled at that site, TorrentFreak asked Daniel Raimer exactly what RapidShare has been doing to show the RIAA and MPAA it means business.
One controversial area is cyberlockers paying users on the amount of times their content gets downloaded, with a German anti-piracy group suggesting recently that good rewards only really come from uploading infringing content. Is it possible to run a “clean” rewards program?
“As you know, RapidShare does not have a rewards program, and the reason for this is pretty simple: we don’t want to be dragged into discussions about ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ rewards programs. What we want are customers, who appreciate our service and who are willing to pay for it, rather than customers who want to be paid themselves,” says Raimer.
“For more than five years, we have never had any serious outages; we try to establish industry leadership by fighting for privacy and against filtering on an international level.
“There are probably some people out there who don’t care about all that and who are just looking for a service that is paying them for uploading their files. Those people are obviously not the type of customers that we want, which is why they shouldn’t use RapidShare in the first place,” he adds.
Recently, Raimer has gone on record stating that service providers have a ‘moral’ responsibility to do more in the fight against piracy and that RapidShare is being more proactive than some of its competitors. So what exactly is the company doing to satisfy both the law and its own “moral” obligations?
Raimer told us that RapidShare has a well-staffed anti-abuse department that acts quickly on infringement notices and terminates the accounts of users who get caught violating copyrights three times. All fairly standard stuff for a company of RapidShare’s standing, but what about going beyond the call of duty?
Surprisingly, Raimer informs us that their abuse department has another job – to proactively search the Internet for potential infringements occurring on RapidShare’s service.
“We have developed a crawling technology that is constantly watching Internet forums, message boards and warez blogs for information about copyright infringement taking place on our system. The information collected by our software is then being evaluated, verified and processed by our anti-abuse department,” Raimer explains.
“Unfortunately, I cannot tell you any details about how this software works, but what I can tell you is that it is pretty sophisticated and that it is able to break most of the countermeasures that warez sites are using against automatic read-outs.”
This highly proactive anti-piracy stance is certainly intriguing, but will it lead to more friendly terms with rightsholders or will they see it as a chance to keep coming back for yet more concessions?
“I have once heard the sentence that some rightsholders try to create a perpetual motion machine, meaning that they will continue to come up with new demands regardless of what we do. This may certainly be true for some rightsholders who believe that the problem isn’t solved for as long as a single copy of their works can be found on the Internet,” says Raimer.
“Fortunately, most rightsholders turn out to be pretty realistic. Obviously, it is in their interest to protect their business and their copyrights, but they know that there are limits as to what a reputable hosting service can do without hurting its legitimate customer base,” he concludes.
For RapidShare, not hurting legitimate customers means respecting their privacy and not checking over their files. This ultimately means that although the company goes further than the law requires in some areas, RapidShare rejects proactive entertainment industry filtering requests, the Holy Grail of cyberlocker copyright enforcement.
RapidShare is certainly showing all the hallmarks of a responsible file-hosting service that meets its obligations under the law, and those it has set for itself on “moral” grounds. Only time will tell whether rightsholders view the company’s efforts as a strength, a weakness to be exploited, or a standard with which to beat other cyberlocker services about the head.