ALEXANDRIA, Va. — When Megaupload executives arrive in court to answer charges that they orchestrated a massive online piracy scheme, they'll be backed by a prominent lawyer who has defended Bill Clinton against sexual harassment charges and Enron against allegations of corporate fraud.
Washington attorney Robert Bennett said Friday that he will represent the company, which was indicted in federal court in Alexandria Thursday on copyright infringement and other charges. The U.S. government shut down Megaupload's file-sharing website on Thursday, alleging that the company facilitated illegal downloads of copyrighted movies and other content. Seven individuals — including the company's founder, who had his name legally changed to Kim Dotcom — were also charged. Dotcom and three others were arrested in New Zealand; three others remain at large.
The shutdown and indictment generated headlines around the world in part because of the size and scope of Megaupload's operation. Sandvine, Inc., a Canadian company that provides equipment to monitor Internet traffic, said the website alone accounted for about 1 percent of traffic on U.S. cable and DSL lines. The site is even more popular in many foreign countries.
Bennett said that "we intend to vigorously defend against these charges" but declined to comment on the case in detail.
Bennett is best known for serving as President Bill Clinton's attorney when he was accused of sexual harassment by Paula Jones. He has also represented Defense Secretaries Clark Clifford and Caspar Weinberger.
Megaupload was no stranger to accusations that its website existed for the sole purpose of mass copyright breach. Before its website was taken down, Megaupload offered a more detailed defense of its operations, claiming in a statement that such accusations are "grotesquely overblown."
The company said it had a clear, easy-to-follow procedure if movie studios or other copyright holders saw that their products were being illegally shared on Megaupload, and said that it responded to those "takedown notices" as required by law.
"Of course, abuse does happen and is an inevitable fact of life in a free society, but it is curbed heavily and efficiently by our close cooperation with trusted takedown partners. It is just unfortunate that the activities of a small group of 'black sheep' overshadows the millions of users that use our sites legitimately every day," the statement said.
Indeed, sites like megaupload.com, known as cyberlockers, can fulfill legitimate needs and are used every day by people looking for an efficient way to share or transfer large files that can't easily be sent by email.
In their indictment, however, federal prosecutors offered a detailed glimpse of the internal workings of the website. They allege that Megaupload was well aware that the vast majority of its users were there to illegally download copyrighted content.
According to the indictment, in a 2008 email chat session, two of the alleged coconspirators exchange messages, with one saying "we have a funny business . . . modern days pirates :)" and the other responds, "we're not pirates, we're just providing shipping services to pirates :)".
In another instance, one of the defendants allegedly laments in colorful language that an episode HBO's "The Sopranos" has been uploaded to site, but the dialogue is in French, limiting its appeal.
In fact, prosecutors allege that the entire website was specifically designed to encourage piracy. The website provided cash bonuses to users who uploaded content popular enough to prompt mass downloads — such content was almost always copyrighted material.
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