Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Is RapidShare snitching on Google?

Posted By on 08.22.12 at 12:30 PM

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Yesterday Daniel Raimer, chief legal officer of the file-locker service RapidShare, met with tech-biz figures and law enforcement officials at the Technology Policy Institute's multidisciplinary Aspen Forum. Like other file-locker services, RapidShare has attracted substantial criticism because it's seen as abetting copyright violations on an epic scale. File lockers are of course popular for legitimate purposes too, like sharing large files between collaborators—the project files for a digital-recording collaboration between two geographically distant musicians, for instance—but when combined with blogs and other social media they provide an easy way to share copyrighted material without the exposure of seeding on a P2P network, where snoops can sniff out your IP address and serve you with multimillion-dollar RIAA lawsuits.

Some file-locker sites have been brazen about hosting intellectual-property black markets—an investigation into megapopular site Megaupload turned up e-mails in which employees discussed user-reported errors in copyrighted material downloaded through the site, and these contributed to an ongoing federal case against the site and its larger-than-life founder, Kim Dotcom. RapidShare puts forth a more professional, less piratical image, and in fact has made attempts to negotiate a treaty with the major labels regarding the rights and responsibilities of file-storage sites when it comes to copyrighted materials. (The labels said no.) It makes sense for Raimer to take his argument to people in law enforcement, because copyright holders—namely the RIAA and MPAA—have been lobbying to increase the Department of Justice's role as copyright enforcers. And what he's telling them makes sense too, and on top of that raises some interesting questions.

One argument Raimer is making is, as the TorrentFreak post puts it, "that the U.S. Government should continue to push for voluntary industry agreements to counter piracy, instead of writing more legislation." It's a point worth arguing, since any legislation aimed specifically at file-storage sites is bound to be recklessly overbroad and sure to harm people who use the sites legitimately. Imagine that CD-Rs had been banned soon after they became widely adopted because they were being used to copy music without permission, and the impact the loss of that format would have had on a decade's worth of artists and labels who used them as the basis of their DIY operations. (When most major file-locker sites went offline after the Megaupload raid, an untold number of perfectly legal rap mixtapes disappeared into the digital ether.)

But the really potentially interesting part of Raimer's pitch is that the feds should take the energy the RIAA wants them to put toward cracking down on file lockers and direct it instead toward what he refers to as "linking sites." "These very sophisticated websites," he says, "often featuring advertising, facilitate the mass indiscriminate distribution of copyrighted content on the Internet and should be the focus of US intellectual property enforcement efforts."

Raimer could be referring to any number of blogging platforms that make it easy for an enterprising pirate to not only offer links to illicitly uploaded copyrighted material to anyone googling the name of the record (and make Google AdSense money for touting the download), but he could also be talking about Google itself. Former Camper Van Beethoven front man and current University of Georgia music-business professor David Lowery has made a less-than-airtight argument that the glory days of the major-label system were better for artists than the current climate, but he makes the very valid point that Google provides an essential role in the system of piracy by file locker. RapidShare and similar sites, as Raimer points out, don't offer a search function, so you can't just show up at RapidShare.com and search for, say, a pirated version of Slayer's Reign in Blood, though many undoubtedly exist on RapidShare's servers. Unless you subscribe to the RSS feeds of a ton of MP3 blogs, the best way for you to find a free download of Reign in Blood is to Google "reign in blood zip" and/or "reign in blood rar," for the two most commonplace file extensions for compressed archives like digital albums. Your Google search should turn up a more or less obscure site, probably hosted on something like Blogspot, that will in turn provide you with your link to an illicit Reign in Blood.

With the shutdown of P2P networks like Limewire and the continued marginality of BitTorrent, the Google-blog-locker mode of piracy has become a new standard—type any album name into a Google search bar, and "rar," "zip," or "Blogspot" will probably be in the top options to autofill your search phrase. It's a three-way symbiosis, but for the most part the file-locker services have borne the brunt of the prosecutorial zeal to crack down on it. If it turns out that RapidShare's not trying to snitch Google out, there could very well be another file-locker site right behind them waiting to do exactly that.

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