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Megaupload Shutdown May Help SOPA's Supporters and Critics

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on January 20, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Justice Department's Megaupload shutdown raises questions about a pair of anti-Internet piracy bills being considered by Congress: Do the feds even need SOPA or PIPA to combat piracy by foreign websites?

Federal prosecutors pulled the plug on the website Megaupload on Thursday, and charged its executives with violating Internet piracy laws, the Associated Press reports. Megaupload is a foreign file-sharing website with more than 150 million registered users.

The feds' Megaupload shutdown followed a widespread Internet "blackout" campaign to protest the House of Representatives' Stop Online Piracy Act and a companion bill in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

But the shutdown seems to suggest SOPA and PIPA may not be as necessary as its supporters claim. Here are arguments on both sides:

If enacted, SOPA and PIPA would allow the Justice Department to seek court orders for U.S. Internet providers to block access to foreign websites that host pirated material. Copyright holders would also be able to sue those websites, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Supporters say SOPA and PIPA are needed to combat online piracy via foreign websites, which are usually outside the reach of U.S. courts.

On the other hand, the Megaupload case shows how the current system can work just fine, without SOPA and PIPA -- it just takes a lot of international cooperation.

Megaupload is a Hong Kong-based website whose executives live in New Zealand. But the company allegedly used servers in Virginia to host some of its pirated material, according to the indictment. That's why a federal court in Virginia has jurisdiction to hear the case.

Authorities in New Zealand worked with U.S. prosecutors and the FBI, and are seeking to extradite Megaupload's executives to the United States to stand trial, the New Zealand Herald reports. If convicted, each defendant could face up to 50 years in prison.

But what about pirate websites that don't use U.S. servers, and are based in countries unfriendly to the United States? SOPA and PIPA supporters may use that scenario to argue the bills are still needed.

As the debate continues, online activists are using SOPA, PIPA, and Megaupload as rallying cries. Hours after the Megaupload shutdown, the Justice Department's own website went down; the online "hactivist" group "Anonymous" claimed retaliation for the Megaupload shutdown.

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