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This story might need to be taken with a grain of salt based on its sources, but it could have some serious implications if true. Megaupload, like Rapidshare, is a cyber-locker site where people can upload files of any kind for others to download. Many of those files are illicitly-copied commercial material, which naturally gives Hollywood, record labels, and publishers (after all, this material does include both e-books and audiobooks) conniptions.

Recently, a number of music celebrities recorded a music video in support of Megaupload. This was considered a newsworthy event, and covered by a number of places, but by itself wouldn’t be interesting enough to rate a mention here. However, the next day Universal allegedly started filing DMCA takedown notices to get the video removed from YouTube. According to Megaupload site founder Kim “Dotcom” Schmitz, Megaupload has the rights to everything it used in the video, making Universal’s notices fraudulent.

“Mega owns everything in this video. And we have signed agreements with every featured artist for this campaign,” Kim told TorrentFreak.

“UMG did something illegal and unfair by reporting Mega’s content to be infringing. They had no right to do that. We reserve our rights to take legal action. But we’d like to give them the opportunity to apologize.”

Megaupload has filed disputes, and UMG has blocked the video again, and Kim says that YouTube’s automatic content filters are now threatening to suspend the Megaupload account. The original video is still down, though searching “Megaupload song” on YouTube finds two mirrors uploaded by individual users so far.

Of course, it’s not entirely clear whether the events happened the way TorrentFreak says they did. I haven’t been able to find any other articles on Google News about the takedown other than the TorrentFreak one (and the BoingBoing post that links to it). And TorrentFreak, to be fair, is not exactly an unbiased source on file-sharing matters. (And judging from what I found in Wikipedia, Kim Schmitz doesn’t seem like the most trustworthy of people, either.)

But if TorrentFreak has it right, this should be raising serious concerns among users of all digital media, including e-books. We already have a copyrighted-content takedown law, the DMCA. It contains penalties that are supposed to prevent illegitimate takedowns from happening, but I don’t recall ever seeing them applied to any of the highly-publicized fraudulent takedown notices that have been reported in the past.

And this comes at a time when the entertainment industry is busy pushing its next content-takedown law, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). It certainly takes some chutzpah to provide an instructive example of the sort of abuse such laws can allow even as you’re trying to get a tougher one passed! (This is one of the reasons I am a little hesitant to endorse the story fully—it seems a little odd that Universal would risk raising the specter of big-content-industry censorship at such a time.)

I must confess I do hope the story turns out to be fundamentally correct, and that Universal gets a swift legal kick to the teeth. Even if this happened as a result of faulty automated systems for content takedown, Universal should still bear responsibility for their actions. But I suppose we’ll have to see how it plays out.

 
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