How Music Is Stolen In 2009

Mega sites are just the latest in war between artists and pirates

By Drew Magary
|  Monday, Nov 16, 2009  |  Updated 1:05 PM EDT
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Country Music Glamour

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Pirates have found a new way to steal from musicians like Adam Lambert.

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Them Crooked Vultures is a supergroup comprised of John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana), and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age). They have an album coming out tomorrow, and it’s one of the more highly anticipated rock releases of the year. Of course, if you’re aching to have the album, you don’t have to wait anywhere near that long, because the leaked album has been online for days now, there for anyone to instantly download and enjoy.

This is thanks to a group of file hosting sites known to the entertainment industry as the MEGA sites. Today’s issue of Forbes has a lengthy article about the Mega sites, which are now more popular than Facebook:

Internet research firm Arbor Networks and the University of Michigan released a bandwidth usage study reporting that the little-known Web hosting firm generated 0.6% of all online traffic in July. That's twice as much as the bandwidth consumed by Facebook and half as much as is used by all of Microsoft's Internet properties combined, including Hotmail and Bing.

The source of Carpathia (Hosting)'s booming popularity? Arbor researcher Craig Labovitz points to a new set of customers that switched to the hosting service a year ago and caused its traffic to jump a hundredfold. They include Megavideo.com, Megaupload.com, Megarotic.com, Megaclick.com and other "mega" sites. "Forbes readers probably haven't heard of them," says Labovitz. "Almost every teenager has."

Indeed they have, because those sites are, bar none, now the easiest way for anyone to steal music online.

Here’s how it works. Sites like Rapidshare, Yousendit, and Megaupload are essentially giant online storage facilities. You upload a file to it, and they will house it for you. Then you can send the link to people, and they can grab whatever you’ve stored. This is a useful service, naturally, because it means you don’t have to sit there for nine hours trying to send a 50MB email to someone that will bounce back to you and cause everyone in your office to kick you in the head. Portfolios, PowerPoint decks, etc. Yousendit and the like are quite useful for sending large files like that.

Megaupload, according to Forbes, pays its users to post popular content. So, you can upload, I dunno, the new Adam Lambert album, and be rewarded by the site for having people find it and download it. And, if the record label issues a cease and desist, you can upload it to a new link and do it all over again.

Most of these albums and films come in a compressed file, with a “.rar” suffix. So, all you need to find the album you want is to Google the name of the artist and album, along with that suffix. That search will take you to any number of sites that will link you to posted files on Rapidshare and Megaupload. Many of these files have been removed, but not all of them. With a little persistence, you can easily find files that are still active. After that, you type in a word verification, wait 70 seconds, and then hit download. You’re done. In minutes, the album will be yours. It’s easier than buying it in the iTunes store.

If you’re wondering how sites like these are allowed to stay functional and not get their pants sued off, it’s because they aren’t registered here in the US. They’re registered in Hong Kong, which makes nailing them a wee bit more difficult.

The MEGA sites represent, at least to my knowledge, the fourth iteration of how music is stolen online. This whole affair began in 1999 with Napster. Napster housed every uploaded song on its central server and then allowed you to peruse for songs in its database via a search. After many a lawsuit, that server had to be shut down. Then came the Gnutella family of programs (Bearshare, Limewire, etc.), that allowed you to search for music, movies and porn that was housed on the machines of anyone using the network at the time. So, if someone in Norway was on Gnutella the same time as you, and had a library of 1,000 songs, you could peruse that library and take what you want. Many of those sites are still operational.

The next iteration was BitTorrent, which allowed users to download large files from a collective pool of hosts (or seeds) online. Like the Gnutella pirates, there is no central server to shut down, but files in BitTorrent are downloaded faster (and can be larger) because they are taken from multiple users, and not just one place.

And now, we’re back to stealing music from a single, hosted place, which is not exactly the turn you would expect in this little story. Indeed, ten years after Napster, it’s pretty amazing that the entertainment industry can’t find a way to shut down a group of sites that are blatantly hosting stolen content.

Will content owners try to come after illegal downloaders? If history is an guide, yes. What the Mega sites represent is the next evolutionary step in how pirates have, and always will, stay one step ahead. Them Crooked Vultures don’t have a chance.

Drew Magary is a writer for Deadspin.com and the author of Men With Balls: The Professional Athlete’s Handbook.

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