The scars left in the cloud-storage industry are still red and angry after the FBI raided and shut down the popular, worldwide cyberlocker service Megaupload in January, so when people started to notice other cyberlockers fall afoul of the same issues, concern rises. Recently, Dropbox started to offer a service that allows users to directly link to files to view their contents and Google has launched Google Drive that also allows direct linking to files. Looking at the incitement against Megaupload, this should put them both on the same firing line.
Mike Masnick from TechDirt argues that the addition of Dropbox’s new service puts them square in the crosshairs of the same sort of prosecution as Megaupload for “criminal conspiracy,”
For example, the fact that Megaupload did not provide a “search” feature to find all the content in its cloud, but merely let people link in, was seen as a way to “hide” the fact that infringing material was available. I am assuming — given the way Dropbox operates — that it, too, is not intending to provide a search engine. It’s good to see Dropbox confident enough that it won’t be shut down on questionable criminal charges — but it certainly continues to raise questions about what the government considers evidence of criminal conspiracy… and how that could create a chill on companies who are, perhaps, less well established than Dropbox.
The new service allows people to provide direct-links to content in their Dropbox accounts and permit people to stream them out—i.e. music plays on a web page, video plays through the Internet, PDF files automatically launch. Add that people cannot use a site search to just poke through private, but linkable, files on Dropbox and they land squarely in the same place as Meagupload.
This function is actually extremely useful, but it makes it more obvious that cyberlockers are very similar to one another: they provide a product that people can use to increase the portability of their files. Megaupload did the same thing and got cited with “criminal conspiracy to commit copyright infringement” for doing it. Only the good will of the US Department of Justice may stand in the way of citing other cloud-storage services for the same activity.
Now comes the launch of the much anticipated Google Drive cyberlocker service—and, to nobody’s surprise, it works almost exactly like every other cloud-storage service out there hawking its wares to the market.
Lo’ and behold, Google Drive also allows users to link directly to files that can be withheld from searches.
Dropbox and Google probably have little to fear from the US DoJ or FBI because they’re power players in the market. Should they get into a fight with the RIAA as Megaupload did, Google has a lot of firepower they can bring to bear to defend itself legally and would probably even cause the US government a great deal of grief. Megaupload was an executive test-case for flexing the muscle of copyright law, an unsympathetic defendant assailed legally over copyright-politics who would lose their entire business even if the case never made it to court.
The real chill wind blowing through cloud-storage and cyberlockers right now is that startups may need to fear that they could be the next target of abusive behavior via copyright-politics. It means that the big-time and small-time cyberlockers are using the same practices as Megaupload (because it’s how the technology works and not because of some nefarious conspiracy) but small-time has a lot more to loose.