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If feds can bust Megaupload, why bother with anti-piracy bills?

A growing battle over copyright on the internet came to a head this week as digital protests scuttled two anti-piracy bills, police arrested Megaupload's millionaire filesharing pirate, and hackers brought down the Department of Justice website.

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Hollywood and music moguls say the internet is killing their business, with Megaupload alone allegedly stealing $500 million worth of copyrighted merchandise. The fact that at least some of the digital material was stored in a server in Virginia gave the Justice Department jurisdiction to have Mr. Dotcom and several others arrested.

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But opponents of the bills say expanding Justice's power over what's kosher and what's not on the web could chill free speech and innovation on the internet, resulting in both economic and societal costs over the long term.

Proponents of anti-piracy legislation say the new laws will only affect scofflaws, but the FBI's salvo against Megaupload indicated to some experts that current law already favors property rights over individual rights.

Some have already questioned how the government had the right to shut down Megaupload this week without first allowing the company to explain itself in court. The action may force legitimate file-sharing companies, including those who provide “cloud”-based file “lockers” for users to store and share material, to question their business models.

“They will wonder if they have done anything different from Megaupload, and does that mean the Feds will come through their door,” Eric Goldman, a professor of intellectual property law at Santa Clara University, told the Washington Post's Cecilia Kang.

In a Monitor commentary, VentureBeat's Ben Popper agreed that the FBI's takedown of Megaupload simply highlighted the efficacy of current laws to curb copyright violators on the web. "Advocates of the legislation have always said that piracy was costing America billions in jobs and endangering jobs," writes Mr. Popper. "Stronger laws were needed, they argued, even if they might pose risks of censorship, chill investment in tech and damage the fundamental architecture of the internet. But the DOJ was able to rely on ProIP, a law passed back in 2008, in order to shut down Megaupload."

But at the same time, Anonymous' subsequent denial-of-service attacks against the DOJ, the MPAA and several other websites in retaliation for the Megaupload arrests could serve to swing public opinion in favor of stronger legislation against online piracy.

“Anonymous' actions hurt the movement to kill SOPA/PIPA by highlighting online lawlessness,” writes the Houston Chronicle's tech blogger, Dwight Silverman, who called the hacker attack the digital version of a “full-scale riot.” He added, “Anonymous is fond of saying, 'We do not forgive. We do not forget.' The problem is, neither do the people who want to shut down online piracy, even at the cost of a less useful and vibrant internet.”

RECOMMENDED: How five websites are protesting SOPA

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