Inside the World of Cyber-Lockers
This article first appeared in the May 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.
Cyber-locker services allow users to upload files to a server, which provides remote and secure storage of users' content. In essence, this is a type of cloud computing.
In the case of Megaupload and other controversial services, users share their files with others and are often incentivized to contribute. Many of the services offer limited access for free and unrestricted use for a fee. According to the Megaupload indictment, the service, which was incredibly easy to use and featured a simple interface, limited nonpremium users to watching only 72 minutes of any given video. Premium access costs about $13 per month, $78 per year or $262 for a lifetime subscription (customers paid in euros).
Not all cyber-locker services have run afoul of authorities. Established services such as Dropbox and Apple's iCloud have limited the exchange of pirated materials with registration requirements that tie people's real names and identities to their accounts and interfaces that make it difficult or even impossible to share files.
"A key distinction between [Megaupload and] what Apple and Dropbox are doing is, those are very much tied to you personally," says Adrian Covert, the associate editor of technology blog Gizmodo. "It's a very natural deterrent for those systems. Piraters couldn't use the iCloud and Dropbox site the same way they could use Megaupload."
Hollywood itself has gotten in on the cyber-locker act, too: Five of the six major studios have entered the fray with UltraViolet, a cloud-based rights management system that allows users to stream licensed content to multiple platforms and devices. But these more mainstream services were dwarfed by Megaupload, which had more than 180 million registered users, acording to the indictment. (Dropbox boasts more than 50 million users.)
The U.S. government's closure of Megaupload has upended the illegal end of the business, says Michal Robinson, executive vp of worldwide content protection for the Motion Picture Association of America. "Even the fact that it is taken down has had a ripple effect on other cyber-lockers."
Indeed, several cyber-locker services that are believed to have hosted copyright infringing material modified their policies in the days following Dotcom's arrest and the closure of Megaupload. In January, services such as Filesonic, Fileserve, FileJungle and UploadStation disabled the ability to download other users' files.
After Megaupload was shut down, a Russia-based website called RapidGator experienced a surge in traffic, but it announced in February that it would shutter after online payment service PayPal banned the company, according to TorrentFreak, a blog that reports on file-sharing. Also announcing their closure were UploadBox and x7.to. Meanwhile, Uploaded.to banned users based in the U.S., and VideoBB and VideoZer deleted many users' accounts and files, TorrentFreak has reported.
Covert says that no single file-sharing service has assumed Megaupload's vacated perch atop the marketplace, nor attained its "cultural ubiquity." However, he said that music distribution platform HulkShare has become more popular, and the technology community is beginning to track the service's growth. HulkShare touts unlimited cloud storage of music files.