BitTorrent search engine BTJunkie has abruptly shut down its website, giving its users a short and sweet goodbye: “We’ve decided to voluntarily shut down. We’ve been fighting for years for your right to communicate, but it’s time to move on.”
It appears likely that the move was a defensive maneuver in response to law enforcement’s takedown of the Megaupload site in January, accompanied with several arrests.
If that’s the case, BTJunkie is hardly alone in reacting to the Megaupload drama — although the proactive and permanent step of shutting down is probably among the most drastic of responses.
FileSonic, for instance, is now blocking file- sharing among users. Members can only upload and download their own files. Other file-sharing sites are blocking users from the U.S.
BTJunkie might have felt it needed to take more direct action, even though it has never been a public target of law enforcement. The RIAA and MIAA reportedly have labeled it a “rogue” site.
A Turning Point
Some of the trends behind the reactions of BTJunkie and other sites have been long-brewing. They came to a head, however, with Megaupload’s takedown by the U.S. Justice Department last month on the grounds of copyright infringement violations.
The founder, Kim Dotcom, is sitting in a New Zealand jail, having been denied bail. Dotcom is facing some serious charges — conspiracy to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement. If convicted, Dotcom could be looking at up to 50 years in prison.
Separately, the founders of the notorious Pirate Bay, are facing a jail term, although nothing close to what Dotcom may serve. Sweden’s supreme court has declined to hear their appeal, and now Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, Gottfrid Svartholm and Carl Lundstrom may have to serve their months-long sentences handed down in November 2010. They also must pay fines totaling close to US$7 million.
“Megaupload sent a message,” Randy M. Friedberg, counsel at White and Williams, told TechNewsWorld. “The Pirate’s Bay was the bad boy out there, so it was easy to ignore or brush off what was happening with that site. However, a lot of people were surprised by the Justice Department’s shutdown of Megaupload, and it definitely grabbed their attention.”
Certainly, the criminal penalties and potentially huge prison sentence has had a chilling impact, White added.
Sites that facilitate file-sharing have good reason to be fearful, he added. “I think the Department of Justice was definitely sending a message or a warning shot to these sites. They intend to start catching up with these sites, many of which have been breaking the law with impunity. In short, we are finally seeing events in the digital world catch up with enforcement actions in the physical world.”
Although the responses of sites have varied, White doesn’t necessarily think that is a gauge of how innocent or guilty they are — or believe themselves to be. “I think a lot of these calculations are based on where the sites and their servers are located, and whether the U.S. has extradition treaties with those locales.”
It is possible that BTJunkie is closing to reorganize, although its parting message doesn’t suggest that, Christopher M. Collins, an attorney with Vanderpool, Frostick & Nishanian, told TechNewsWorld. Other sites that are fearful of a suddenly more aggressive Justice Department might opt for a reorganization, however, he added.
These closures are clearly a win for the RIAA and MIAA, which are still smarting from the temporary defeat over the Stop Online Piracy Act, he added. However, it is not a decisive or final victory by any means.
“Unless some version of SOPA with real teeth is enacted — a question for another day — then I believe that this will be a recurring issue for the content owners and their Net police,” Collins said.
“Also, let’s see what happens with Megaupload,” he added. Even with the founder behind bars, “I could easily imagine that this becomes an [Internet] version of whack-a-mole.”