by FMC Communications Intern Olivia Brown
If you were to pose the question of why unauthorized downloading is so pervasive many answers would probably refer to the prevalence of convenient, unrestrictive file locker services. This wouldn’t be wrong—file lockers clearly provide the infrastructure that people need to go about their unauthorized downloading activities. Opposition to file locker services tends to focus on their role as enablers and facilitators of unauthorized downloading, and in some cases, their tendency to turn a blind eye to the illegal exchanges that are obviously happening on their websites.
However, like many technologies, file lockers can used for both “good and evil.” People use file lockers to transfer their own files between computers, to send materials to coworkers, to share legal media files that are just too large for email attachments…the list goes on. Even within the music industry itself, artists use file lockers to securely and privately transfer large files that they need for their work, especially if they are collaborating with other artists, producers, writers, or engineers from a distance. Increasingly, artists who wish to give away their music for free are turning to file hosting services to provide easy access to the music for their fans. Cloud storage services are becoming a part of some new artist business models.
Essentially, it’s not what you use, but how you use it. Still, companies are not completely absolved from trying to ensure that their customers are using their services legally and ethically. The ways in which people choose to use file lockers can still be influenced by the features that the services offer.
Take Megaupload, for example. When Mega-boss Kim Dotcom was indicted in January 2012, the US government pointed out several characteristics of the Megaupload interface that seem to indicate a deliberate leniency towards, or even support of, unauthorized downloading. Megaupload had features such as a database-wide search tool and a promotional program that gave users rewards for having “popular” files. Accounts that engaged in unauthorized downloading were allegedly not terminated, and the only files that were aggressively removed were child pornography. Their business model was seemingly heavily dependent on download page advertisements, suggesting that they were focused on getting a high volume of file transfers as opposed to providing a storage and transfer space for legitimate, legal files. These actions, or inactions as the case may be, led prosecutors to believe that Dotcom and his company were, at best, apathetic toward unauthorized downloading, and at worst, outright complicit.
But not all locker services are created equal. Some, in fact, have actually taken measures to make downloading more difficult. RapidShare is one file locker company that seems to have made an extra effort to quell unauthorized downloading on their service. Last April, RapidShare published a “Responsible Practices for Cloud Storage Services” document that enumerates practices that the company intends to observe in order to build up their service as a reliable and professional option for data storage. They want to be compliant with the “notice and takedown” requirements in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). They have slashed download speeds for unpaid users and suggested that the government should crack down on linking sites that aggregate illegal file links from file hosting sites, rather than dismantle innovative cloud-based technologies and file lockers themselves. Though pirates may still sail these waters, so to speak, RapidShare at least seems willing to launch a few retaliatory cannonballs.
We’ve paid close attention to developments in this space, especially with big companies like Amazon, Google and Apple offering music storage services that are essentially cloud storge lockers with a few added (and some absent) features. Then there are the other locker services that bear some similarities to MegaUpload, who are undoubtedly anxious about the outcome of that case.
Do you have your own thoughts on the use and misuse of data storage services? Do you want to hear more of the arguments for and against file lockers? Join us at FMC’s eleventh Future of Music Summit on November 13 to hear from panelists including Daniel Raimer, General Counsel at RapidShare.