Cloud Storage in the Age of SOPA and Megaupload

One thing has become clear in the last few months: Hollywood has declared war on the Internet. Rupert Murdoch and his colleagues, not content with grossing billions of dollars on their blockbuster movies have decided to spent some of those billions to lobby congress to try and get legislation passed that would give them the ability to more quickly (and with minimal due process) shut down file sharing sites that they think are hosting pirated content. Of course, Mr. Murdoch has demonstrated that he has a fairly fuzzy understanding of how links and such work so if it’s up to him not only would file sharing sites be shut down but also sites that link to potentially pirated content such as…well…Google would be shut down as well.

Fortunately Mr. Murdoch’s misunderstandings are not likely to be the basis of any actual legislation but the fact is that all of the anti-piracy activity has gotten the attention of the file sharing and storage sites.

And if SOPA/PIPA didn’t get their attention…then the sudden shutdown of popular file sharing site Megaupload, and arrest of its staff, certainly have. In the wake of the Megaupload raid a couple of other online file storage sites voluntarily closed their doors and several others have scrambled to revise their policies and procedures.

So why does any of this matter to you? Other than that old VHS copy of “The Little Mermaid” you recorded off ABC Family back in 1997 you don’t have any pirated material! But that really doesn’t matter.

A lot of the people who were storing their files on Megaupload didn’t have any pirated material either, but their files are just as gone. Last June the FBI raided the Virginia offices of Digital One and made off with a rack of servers. They were targeting a single individual but when they pulled the servers down came Pinboard, Curbed and a bunch of other websites that had nothing to do with it.

That’s the risk you face when you store files or applications in a multi-tenant environment. Law enforcement (and especially the MPAA and RIAA) tend to deal with such issues by seizing or shutting the entire site – throwing the baby out with the bath water you might say.

The real world analog would be if the office two floors down from yours was occupied by a criminal and the government decided to deal with that by bombing the whole building. You, the accountants across the hall and the dentist upstairs had nothing to do with it, but you’re just as punished. Fortunately in the real world law enforcement (usually) has a more granular solution. They can kick down the door of the criminal without also destroying the dental office. They can arrest the culprits with a minimum of collateral damage – usually.

In the digital world that’s often not the case. If your documents are on the same server with a terrorist’s files or somebody who is sharing pirated copies of “Mission Impossible” (which is apparently just as bad in Mr. Murdoch’s view) it’s entirely possible that your documents are going to get seized too. Just ask any of the innocent users of Megaupload.

Lots of folks are using Dropbox…want to bet that there might be a pirated song, eBook or episode of “Friends” uploaded there too? I’m not saying Dropbox is in imminent danger of takedown – I’m simply pointing out that when you share servers with thousands of anonymous other folks there is a chance that one or more of those other folks is being naughty and we’ve already seen that the government is willing and able to swoop in and clean out those folks (and anybody else in the vicinity).

“So I Shouldn’t Use The Cloud?!”

Well no, that would be a bit of an overreaction. My advice to you is two-fold:

  1. Be thoughtful about what cloud services you use to store files. New file sharing/storage services are cropping up all the time. It seems like every week I get lawyers asking me about (or worse, boasting about) using some new cloud storage service nobody had ever heard of a week ago. Be reluctant to store your files on SuperUltraShareBox until it’s had some time to prove that it’s legit and maybe not likely to go anywhere. It’s not that Dropbox or are too big to go down (Megaupload was, well, pretty mega) but the more established services are more likely to make reasonable efforts to control piracy and thus are less likely to provoke the “nuclear” response from law enforcement.
  2. Always keep a local copy of anything you store in the Cloud. One of the strengths of a service like Dropbox or Live Mesh is that it doesn’t leave you totally dependent upon somebody else’s server. If Dropbox vanishes, you still have the Dropbox folder on your device(s) with all of your documents and files in it. Keep your own local backup of any files you host in the Cloud and you’re protected against the sudden loss of that service – for whatever reason.

The battle is far from over. It’s clear that Mr. Murdoch, Mr. Dodd and the various media industry associations are still anxious to shut down any and all ways for people to share media. They’ve spent far too much money to just walk away from it just because SOPA and PIPA got put down. I’m sure there WILL be more casualties of this war on sharing. Follow the above advice and hopefully you won’t be one of them. But just to be safe you might want to hide that bootleg Little Mermaid tape.


  1. Well stated, Mr. Schorr.

    I wrote extensivley on the legal and policy implications of the Megaupload proscution at:

    Succintly, the allegations in the indictment very much blur the line between civil and criminal cpyright infringement in the U.S., and make many other cloud service providers potential targets for prosecution – with resulting collateral damage on their non-infringing users.