Dropbox adds link file-sharing; Welcome to the Megaupload club

Dropbox adds link file-sharing; Welcome to the Megaupload club

Summary: Dropbox has painted a giant target on its back by offering one simple, additional feature to its file-storage service: a link-generating button to enable public file-sharing.

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As file storage favourite Dropbox adds the option to turn private files it stores into public, linkable content, it has overnight transformed into a de facto file-sharing service.

The trouble is that nothing seems to differentiates Dropbox from any other file-sharing website, including troubled Megaupload.

Megaupload was shut down for among many things, criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. Its executives were arrested and the extradition process began within hours of their detention. The company continues to battle its case despite reports suggesting the prosecution's legal case is close to collapse.

In a similar set of circumstances, 23-year-old British student Richard O'Dwyer is to be extradited from the United Kingdom to face charges in the United States --- though his website and server was in Europe, and the UK previously ruled on a similar case which deemed his activities legal --- for hosting a link-sharing website. No copyrighted content was hosted on his site, but mere links pointing to U.S. movies and television shows.

Dropbox chief executive Drew Houston concedes that sharing documents, pictures, and files on the Web to anyone you know --- regardless of whether they are in your social network or not --- is still "bafflingly, still really difficult."

All good and well. But what truly separates Megaupload's or O'Dwyer's case from Dropbox?

Nothing does. Here's why.

A user uploads the latest episode of House to their Dropbox account, and enables the link-sharing feature. They then share the link with a few friends and they download it. Or, they submit the link to a link-sharing forum --- and there are plenty of them, rest assured --- and hundreds or thousands go on to download it.

Maybe Dropbox gets suspicious, or maybe it blocks the file on upload for infringing copyright. Or it fails to, and like the recent YouTube case in Germany, is forced to shell out for a more stringent filtering system. Either way, Dropbox will all but inevitably end up in court.

Or, someone takes to another file-sharing site to upload copyright infringing files and takes a note of the link. Rinse and repeat a dozen times. They then create a document that contains links to other file-sharing sites. It could then be shared by friends and family, or even to the wider community.

That list alone uploaded to Dropbox would be illegal under U.S. and now UK law, and could lead to extraditions and prosecutions of not only the infringer, but a mass copyright suit in Dropbox's inbox.

Dropbox is no different from any other file-sharing site. It allows users to upload files, and it allows them to share the files by way of sending others' links to that file. The file can then be downloaded and redistributed either on Dropbox or elsewhere.

It has no legitimacy, nor does it have legal protection. File-sharing is big business, and Dropbox makes hundreds of millions if not more. It was estimated to generate at least $240 million in 2011 alone, and its revenue comes from premium accounts offering additional storage and enterprise clients.

Granted, it isn't quite a referral scheme, in which users can upload content --- most of it often infringing someone's copyright, such as television shows, movies and music --- and generate revenue based on how many clicks and downloads are made which ultimately draws in traffic for the site. But it makes money from those who upload large files or require vast spaces to store their content.

RapidShare, which for years ran a similar referral scheme, denied this week violating copyright laws, and released a "responsible practices" manifesto for cloud storage companies. RapidShare, along with Dropbox, could kick off infringers off its site, and even report repeat infringers to law enforcement.

But who would use a service that may issue false positives and lead to unfounded allegations and investigations based on a third-party's suspicion?

Dropbox had for over a year fringed on becoming something more than it was. But the reality is that Microsoft's SkyDrive and Google Drive could fall to the same fate. SkyDrive offers public linking, and Google Drive is expected to offer a similar feature to which its sister service Google Docs also offers.

What do Microsoft and Google have that Dropbox doesn't? Money to install heavy-duty, zero-tolerance copyright catching filters, and the money to pay for lawyers when it inevitably blows up in their respective faces.

Or it shows an entirely different picture. If Dropbox, and other file-sharing heavyweights like Microsoft and Google all offer file-sharing capabilities, perhaps its time for the MPAA, RIAA, and the rest of the "copyright cartel" to back down and concede that it cannot repackage the plague that emerged from Pandora's box.

Update: Dropbox offered this statement after publication:

“Dropbox explicitly prohibits copyright abuse. We've put in a place a number of measures to ensure that our sharing feature is not misused. For example, there's a copyright flag on every page allowing for easy reporting, we place bandwidth limits on downloads, and we prohibit users from creating links to files that have been subject to a DMCA notice. We want to offer an easy way for people to share their life’s work while respecting the rights of others.”

Image credit: ZDNet/Dropbox.

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9 comments
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  • One difference

    Dropbox must be tied to an account, MegaUpload was not. You could upload files anonymously if you wanted to. And those files have to exist on your computer somewhere in order to be shared, making it extremely easy to track you down via an the IP address commonly accessed to your account. Unless you are the world's stupidest pirate, that's not a great way to share copyrighted files and stay underneath the radar.
    Jeff Kibuule
  • Some differences

    dagamer34 mentioned a big one, but there are others. The straw that broke Megaupload's back was the payout scheme that rewarded willful infringement with cash money. Also, they had no widespread base of "legitimate use" to argue that the service was simply abused by a small percentage of the subscribers. Dropbox has a much larger subscriber base built on legitimate use, enough to give the media cartels and the storm troopers pause if they contemplate summarily shutting the service down.
    terry flores
  • We do not need no stinking web storage.

    Here in the Bubba Jones household we use Pogoplug. We share files and folders for free. Of course we bought the device and extra HDD. We now have over three TB of storage connected to it.
    BubbaJones_
  • So what you're really saying is...

    "Or it fails to, and like the recent YouTube case in Germany, is forced to shell out for a more stringent filtering system. Either way, Dropbox will all but inevitably end up in court."

    If you want to act like Megaupload, make sure you DON'T have a filter system before you go to court the first time so that the filtering system doesn't end up needing to be even more stringent by court order. That will allow your first filtering system to be flimsy enough to pass muster ... that is, if you don't sign away your rights, like YouTube to UMG.
    Vapur9
  • Weren't they already doing something like this?

    I've been using dropbox for quite some time now and up until this they've always had the "Public" folder in your DB account where you could get a link to a file in that folder and share it with anyone. It looks like all this adds is the ability to do it with any file in your DB and not just the ones in the public folder. I'm not sure what the big deal is unless I'm missing something.

    [So I got in my dropbox and yeah....I'm not really missing anything here. It's just like the Public Download Link for the files in the public folder except it puts the content in a framed window with a download button, and a button to add it to your own dropbox. Still not seeing what the big deal is.]
    SpiderTech
  • Copyrighted content... such as e-books, too

    Zack, almost no journalist includes e-books when listing the types of copyrighted content that file "sharing" site users abuse. E-Book authors are harmed as much if not more than musicians, movie-makers, photographers, game-designers, TV-producers.

    Book authors cannot compete with "free", no matter how reasonably they price their books, and apart from sales there is no other revenue.

    Please make a point of including e-books in your future lists of pirated content, because, by omitting e-books, you may unintentionally give the impression that "sharing" ebooks is not a problem. It is.
    rowenacherry
  • Oh poor EU citizens, and their spineless government.

    So most EU country have no backbone left they are just stooges of USA. Just like it should be, we own you now bend down and take it deep. As for pirating, or copyright infringment that is not going away. But Megaupload was trying to be legit which was where they went wrong.
    Kiljoy616
  • Never, ever going to happen

    perhaps its time for the MPAA, RIAA, and the rest of the ???copyright cartel??? to back down and concede that it cannot repackage the plague that emerged from Pandora???s box.

    Keep dreaming, as long as the EU is spineless, why would they, they are passing laws there they can't eve get passed here.
    Kiljoy616
  • mark my words

    The charges laid against the megauplaod people concerning copyright infringement will amount to nothing.
    Scarface Claw