Without regular access to televisions at school, many Jumbos rely on video−sharing sites to watch their favorite shows and movies. But with the recent shutdown of MegaUpload.com, students are personally feeling the loss of one of the Web's most popular video hosts as they scramble to find commercial−free television.
On Jan. 19, the U.S. government arrested seven individuals involved in with MegaUpload, charging them with international Internet piracy. This seizure, which federal agencies referred to as one of the biggest criminal copyright cases of all time, came just a day after widespread online protests against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), a pair of antipiracy acts introduced in the House and the Senate, respectively.
The seizure of MegaUpload, a server for the popular streaming site MegaVideo, has affected millions of Internet users, including many Tufts students. But many are still uncertain about the justifications for and ramifications of the action.
"I tried to download an album from MegaUpload the other day, and I couldn't. It was upsetting," freshman Sahil Kathawala said. "But I don't understand how it was operating so long if it was illegal."
Junior Dan Weinstein sees MegaUpload as an open−and−shut case.
"It's illegal, it's just convenient and accessible," he said. "Everyone uses these websites, but it's disregarding the law. The government was definitely justified in shutting them down."
MegaUpload was one of the Internet's most popular "locker" services, letting users transfer large files of movies and music anonymously. According to the grand jury indictment, MegaUpload caused $500 million in damages to copyright holders and generated $175 million for its operators through subscriptions and advertisements.
Four of the seven people involved — including Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom — were arrested and extradited from New Zealand. Each of the seven — called the "MegaConspiracy" — faces five charges of conspiracy and copyright infringement and the possibility of more than 20 years in prison.
Associate Director of the Experimental College Howard Woolf sees the MegaUpload shutdown as merely the most recent manifestation of a deeper struggle between media companies and the proponents of a free Internet.
"There's a lot of paranoia on both sides," he said. "The people who are on the side of keeping the Web open and free with no restrictions are very paranoid of corporate power. The corporations who would have you believe they're bleeding money because of [the piracy] are very paranoid of the power of the Internet going forward."
SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate are examples of the ongoing government crackdown on piracy. These bills would have allowed the Justice Department to force websites to remove links to suspected foreign pirating sites. Backed by companies including the Motion Picture Association of America and Time Warner, SOPA and PIPA were meant to protect intellectual property and eliminate copyright infringement.
But a widespread backlash by some of the biggest Internet companies, including a 24−hour blackout by Wikipedia, caused congressional support to erode rapidly and the vote to be postponed indefinitely. According to opponents of these bills, they would amount to a form of Internet censorship, violating the First Amendment and repressing the freedom of the Internet.
Many students have a mixed reaction to SOPA and PIPA.
"I think in terms of what it does to protect intellectual property, it's really important," sophomore Zanny Allport said. "But I worry that it would stifle the sharing that the Internet encourages and facilitates, even when that sharing is sometimes illegal."
Weinstein agreed that the ramifications of the bills could cause more harm than good.
"I'm all for free Web," Weinstein said. "I think once you start restricting what's online, you're going to run into problems with freedom of speech, freedom of the press and a host of other ethical issues."
Kathawala expressed concern for artists and their ability to profit, and he acknowledged the inconvenience a limited Internet would mean for him.
"I don't like [SOPA or PIPA] because it would mean I would have to pay for music and movies, but to that extent, it's fair to the music and movie industry," he said. "I would want to give them the money they deserve for their products."
Woolf maintains that the artists are the ones suffering in this debate. On one hand, he says, giant media corporations already have oppressive control over artists' ability to freely create. On the other hand, Internet piracy shares artists' work but denies them profit for it.
"The bottom line is, how do we want to have expression that people put out to the public, that they've written or played or made, and get paid a fair wage for it?" he said. "The people who are getting hurt are the artists and the technicians and the craftspeople and everybody involved in creating the product, and that's always overlooked."
Guilt is another factor in the Internet piracy struggle. According to Woolf, as social media like Facebook and Twitter bridge the gap between people and artists, the personal connection makes stealing their work more difficult.
"Even people who get a kick out of getting something for nothing will feel guilty eventually," he said.
To Woolf, the issue is larger than just SOPA, PIPA or MegaUpload. The real question is how a stubborn and entrenched media industry can adapt to the powerful and constantly changing force that is the Internet. The Internet age is radically different than any time before, he says, and it's up to the Internet generation to innovate and find a solution.
"We're in the middle of major change in consciousness that we don't understand," he said. "This is just another blip on the radar screen. Our systems don't work, so what are we going to do about it? Try to clamp down and go back? That's never going to work. Or do we try to figure out new structures that will work, that everybody for the most part will abide by?"
Allport agreed that these issues affect the current generation of young adults in a unique way.
"Anytime anyone tries to impose any kind of control, people are going to be upset," she said. "But because of the image the Internet has had for our generation, this is especially close to home."