It's not everyday an Internet company watches its traffic numbers plummet - and rejoices. But that is precisely the scenario that cloud storage service RapidShare finds itself in as it seeks to draw a clear distinction between its business model and that of the now-defunct Megaupload.
Since the raid that saw Megaupload shut down and its founder arrested last last year, RadidShare and similar services have been taking measures to reduce piracy on their networks, in many cases limiting their functionality and potentially sacrificing the overall user experience. If it means avoiding the fate of Megaupload, even drastic changes are worth it to these companies.
On November 27, RapidShare will start putting a tight cap on outbound downloads for its free users. Paid members will still have 30 gigabytes in outbound downloads per day, but everybody else will be capped at one gigabyte. This will apply to public downloads, whereas direct Dropbox-style sharing between users won't be affected. The change is expected to further deter pirates from using RapidShare to distribute copyright material on a large scale.
An Ongoing, Newly Urgent Battle
The download caps are just the latest in a list of anti-piracy moves the company has made, as Chief Legal Officer Daniel Raimer outlined in a presentation at the Future of Music Summit in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. Those earlier efforts include a three-strike policy for repeat infringers and Web-crawling technology that helps RapidShare find links to illegal content so it can take corrective measures with those accounts.
"That's really helpful to delete a lot of accounts in a short amount of time and to get rid of a lot of piracy that happens on a large scale," Raimer told ReadWrite in an interview after his talk. "It's kind of hard to identify guys who do piracy on a very low level, like some Norwegian kid who has a music blog with very low traffic. Sooner or later that guy is going to be detected."
Earlier this year, RapidShare published a document titled "Responsible Practices For Cloud Storage Services" (see below), which outlines an anti-piracy framework for cyberlockers like to use in dealing with DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown requests to remove allegedly pirated content and policing activity on their services.
RapidShare Handicaps Itself To Save Its Own Life
In the case of RapidShare, the association with piracy is difficult to shake. For years, links to RapidShare pages containing movies and albums have littered the Web. According to Google Trends, the second most closely related search term to "RapidShare" is "Megaupload." Included on the list of top-ten related search terms are "rapidshare movies" and "rapidshare crack." It's this close association with piracy that RapidShare is hoping to change with its download caps, three-strike policy and Web-crawling technology.
The company has already seen a substantial drop-off in traffic as a result of the company's existing anti-piracy measures, Raimer said. Their goal is to make using RapidShare as unpalatable as possible for copyright infringers, and the initial response to its anti-infringement measures suggest that the strategy is working. The pirates are not happy.
RapidShare isn't the only company taking these kinds of precautions. In the aftermath of the Megaupload shutdown, FileSonic and FileServe stopped allowing users to download files uploaded by other users, and MediaFire went on a PR offensive in an attempt to draw a line between itself and Megaupload.
This is an odd and risky position for a business to be in, deliberately handicapping its own product in a bid to shoo away some users while hoping to cling to enough members to avoid a detrimental drop in revenue.
RapidShare is trying to strike a very delicate balance. How effectively it's able to do that depends, in part, on how much of the content on RapidShare infringes on copyrights, and how much does not. That's a difficult thing to measure, but no doubt the company's crawlers and other anti-piracy technology is starting to illuminate. Come November 27, the picture will start to get even clearer.