Mention the word ‘Limewire’ to today’s file-sharers, downloaders, or streamers, and you’ll probably get a vacant stare in response. After being handed a massive defeat at the hands of the RIAA in 2010, it’s now viewed as old technology, a redundant cassette tape in a brand new hi-tech world.
But if a decade seems like a long time for a technology like Limewire, spare a thought for Megaupload. In a few months’ time, the shutdown of the site at the hands of US and New Zealand authorities (assisted by the MPAA and RIAA, of course) will be less than a year away from its own tenth anniversary.
Only a gambling man would dare to predict when or even if the multiple cases against Dotcom will ever be concluded but for chairman and RIAA CEO Mitch Glazier, none of that seems to be as crucial as it once was.
In an interview just published by Rolling Stone, Glazier recalls his time at the RIAA, covering a wide range of topics affecting the industry. In respect of copyright and piracy issues, he effectively declares victory over the German-born entrepreneur.
“We have had some huge significant victories along the way,” he told Rolling Stone.
“Going to the Supreme Court to show that music is protected online; winning that case against Kim Dotcom and the cyberlocker world to deter future Kim Dotcoms from doing the same thing.”
The statement is interesting on a number of fronts. Firstly, it’s important to note that Kim Dotcom has yet to set foot in a US court to face not only a criminal action by the US Government but also civil suits filed by Hollywood and the music industry, headed by the RIAA.
That, of course, is entirely down to the Megaupload founder. He’s been fighting tooth and nail to avoid extradition to the United States and with decades in prison on the table, who wouldn’t?
Nevertheless, a court-stamped victory in any of these procedures remains on the distant horizon. As reported last week, the cases filed by the RIAA and MPAA have been on hold for years and have just been delayed for another six months.
So, from a technical perspective at least, the RIAA hasn’t had the pleasure of “winning the case against Kim Dotcom”. However, not all victories are achieved in court. In fact, ‘gone to trial and received a verdict’ affects a tiny minority.
If the aim of the action was to destroy Megaupload, that has been achieved in no uncertain terms. Within minutes of the launch of the operation, the file-hosting site was brought to its knees and, shortly after, there was little left but a mountain of servers gathering dust. This, of course, could be the significant victory Glazier was talking about.
And there are other matters too. The deterrent effect of the Megaupload raid was considerable and in the wake of its demise, other large file-sharing sites closed down. No one really knows how many other developers changed course as a result but it wouldn’t be a surprise if ‘many’ was the answer.
Nevertheless, just a year later Dotcom launched Mega, a massive file-sharing site that is still going strong today, albeit not under his control. Given the way Mega operates, it’s unlikely it could ever be tackled in the same way as Megaupload was. In many respects, its formation was guided by the case against Megaupload, which effectively handed the platform a guidebook on how not to fall foul of the law.
As the years have ticked by since the destruction of Megaupload, the acquisition of free music hasn’t sat still. In common with many types of piracy, it continues today and presents new challenges for those seeking to mitigate its effects. While file-hosting services still provide a threat, it’s more likely these days for the RIAA to be tackling sites that help users to obtain content for free from legitimate sources like YouTube.
“Now in the stream-ripping world, we are trying to figure out from an anti-circumvention point of view how to stop somebody hacking into YouTube’s system,” Glazier explains.
This is a clear reference to so-called YouTube-ripping sites, that allow music fans to download rather than stream content. The RIAA is in a battle with these platforms using a mix of direct legal action and the sending of large volumes of DMCA anti-circumvention notices. The latter might be proving an irritant to ripping platforms but they are not being put out of business.
Interestingly, Glazier hints that the anti-circumvention notice approach, which results in URLs of stream-ripping sites being permanently delisted from Google, may have in part been prompted by issues with the RIAA’s distribution platforms, the largest of which is YouTube.
“[T]he resources required to stop [stream-ripping] create tension between us and our licensing partners, so we have to see if we can address the issue through search or some other means. The brainstorm has been ever-changing,” he reveals.
But while there are always new challenges, some things never change. Pre-release leaks are a major source of distress to the record labels and Glazier says that these “emergencies” always keep him on his toes.
“If an artist has an album coming out and it goes up on a site before that, our job is to work with the other groups around the world — 24/7, 365 days a year — to get that down so the artist can receive the benefit of the release of their product,” he says.
Leaks apparently appear in Glazier’s email marked with a “little red flag” alongside what appears to be an action plan. Given the global reach of the labels, mitigation may start off in one time zone and then shift to another, to ensure that anti-piracy personnel are on the case around the clock. And that helps to blur the lines between Glazier’s working and social life too.
“[E]very 20 minutes there will be another ping from the label: ‘Is it down yet? Is it down yet? Is it down yet?’ Because the artist is saying to the label: ‘Is it down yet? Is it down yet? Is it down yet?’,” he explains.
“It’s always emergencies at the weekend. It’s just Murphy’s Law.”