Criminal Copyright Enforcement Against Filesharing Services

October 31, 2013

The high-profile prosecution of the popular online storage website Megaupload for criminal copyright infringement is the latest in a series of recent criminal prosecutions of online filesharing services. This Article addresses what pushes a legitimate online file-storing business over the edge to criminal enterprise, and how criminal copyright enforcement differs from civil enforcement. The Article first explains the history of criminal copyright enforcement in the United States. It then addresses why “secondary” theories of infringement apply in the criminal, as well as civil, context and why the DMCA “safe harbor” defense is a red herring in criminal copyright actions. It concludes by suggesting guidelines for prosecutorial discretion in enforcing criminal copyright law against filesharing services, proposing that prosecutions be limited to theories of liability already established in civil case law, and that prosecutors target only prominent filesharing-service operators that openly defy civil enforcement actions.