The most popular file-hosting sites, also known as cyberlockers, have millions of visitors per day.
In recent years many of these sites have gotten a bad reputation as they are frequently used to share copyrighted files.
Today the Digital Citizens Alliance released a new report (pdf) that looks into the profitability of these sites and services. Titled “Behind The Cyberlocker Door: A Report How Shadowy Cyberlockers Use Credit Card Companies to Make Millions,” it offers insight into the money streams that end up at these alleged pirate sites.
The study, carried out by NetNames and backed by the entertainment industry, uses information from the busted Megaupload service to estimate the earnings of various other sites. Based on these and other assumptions it concludes that the top cyberlockers generate an average $3.2 million per site per year.
“Overall, total annual revenue across the thirty cyberlockers equated to $96.2 million or $3.2 million per site. One site gathered $17.6m per year in revenue,” the report notes, adding that it’s a conservative estimate.
The report brands these sites as piracy havens based on a sample of the files they host. All the sites that are listed are used predominantly for copyright infringement, they claim.
“The overwhelming use of cyberlockers is for content theft. Analysis of a sampling of the files on the thirty cyberlocker sites found that the vast majority of files were clearly infringing,” the report reads.
“At least 78.6 percent of files on direct download cyberlockers and 83.7 percent of files on streaming cyberlockers infringed copyright,” it adds.
Here’s where the researchers make a crucial mistake. The sample, where the percentage of allegedly infringing files is based on, is drawn from links that are posted publicly online. These are certainly not representative for the entire site, at least not in all cases.
For Mega the researchers looked at 500 files that were shared online. However, the overwhelming majority of Mega’s files, which number more than 500,000,000, are never shared in public.
Unlike some other sites in the report, Mega is a rather traditional cloud hosting provider that’s frequently used for personal backup, through its desktop client or mobile apps for example. The files that are shared in public are the exception here, probably less than one percent of the total.
There is no denying that there are shady and rogue sites that do profit heavily from piracy, but lumping all these sites together and branding them with a pirate label is flat-out wrong.
Aside from “exposing” the estimated profitability of the cyberlockers the report also has a secondary goal. It puts out a strong call to the credit card companies Visa and MasterCard, and hosting providers such as Cloudflare, urging them to cut their ties with these supposed pirate havens.
“They should take a hard look at the checkered history of their cyberlocker partners. Simply put, the businesses that simply exploit and expropriate the creative efforts of others do not occupy a legitimate place in the Internet ecosystem,” the report notes.
“Content theft is a cancer on the Internet. It introduces viruses and malware to computers, robs creators who rely on the Internet to sell their products, damages brands by associating them with illegal and inappropriate content and provides seed money for criminals to engage in other illegal activities,” it adds.
Hopefully future reports will have more nuance. At minimum they should make sure to have all the facts right, as that’s generally more convincing.