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 yesterday that he will represent the company, which was indicted in federal court in Alexandria Thursday on copyright infringement and other charges. The US 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 US 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.
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.
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 e-mail.
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.