US authorities have shut down file-sharing site Megaupload and arrested its proprietors, setting off an apparent campaign by Anonymous hackers to take down the websites of rights-holders such as Universal Music.
Megaupload and related sites run by the same people represent an "international organised criminal enterprise allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy of numerous types of copyrighted works", the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the FBI said on Thursday.
Seven people have been charged with racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering. Several of the charges involve conspiracy, and the maximum sentences for the various charges range from five to 20 years each.
The authorities said the company, which describes itself
as providing "the leading online storage and file delivery service",
has generated more than $175m (£113m) in "criminal proceeds" from the use of its sites to commit and enable the theft of copyrighted works.
For a premium, Megaupload users could have unlimited file storage and give other people direct links to the material they were hosting there. In December, the company launched a new service called Megabox, which was a web-based music locker and player with an integrated music store.
The DoJ said it has seized Megaupload's domains. The main site was inaccessible at the time of writing, as was that for Universal Music. According to a Twitter account purporting to be associated with the hacking collective Anonymous, Universal was taken down by the hackers in retaliation for the Megaupload arrests.
page in a web browser will in most cases recruit the browsing computer
to the DDoS attack," he wrote in a blog post.
The hip-hop producer Swizz Beatz, who has not been charged, was reportedly listed on Megaupload's site as being the company's chief executive. However, there is as yet no public evidence stating that he really had a share in the business or helped to run it.
Beatz, whose real name is Kasseem Dean, had previously organised a promotional video for the site featuring stars including his wife Alicia Keys, and others such as Will.i.am, Diddy and Kanye West. Universal Music ordered the video to be taken down from YouTube, claiming it had not authorised its signed artists to appear in it.
New Zealand arrests
The DoJ said four of the alleged conspirators were arrested in New Zealand at the request of US authorities. One of the detainees is Kim Dotcom, also known as Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, a resident of Hong Kong and New Zealand who was the alleged leader of the organisation.
Dotcom founded Megaupload and is the "director and sole shareholder of Vestor Limited, which has been used to hold his ownership interests in the Mega-affiliated sites", the DoJ said.
The others arrested in Auckland include Finn Batato, Megaupload's German chief marketing officer; Mathias Ortmann, the German chief technical officer; and Bram van der Kolk, a Dutch programmer.
Three other suspects are still at large: Julius Bencko, the company's Slovakian graphic designer; Sven Echternach, the German head of business development; and Andrus Nomm, the Estonian head of software development.
In addition to the arrests, authorities in the US and eight other countries executed search warrants and seized around $50m in assets. Server sites were targeted in Virginia and Washington, DC, and in the Netherlands and Canada. A total of 18 domains were ordered seized by a Virginia court.
According to the DoJ and FBI, the UK's Metropolitan Police assisted in the FBI-led investigation, as did police and prosecutors in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Germany, Australia and the Philippines.
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