The FBI on Thursday shut down popular file-sharing website Megaupload.com and charged the site's founders and five others with running "an international organized criminal enterprise" responsible for "massive online piracy."
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Megaupload Limited and sister company Vestor Limited generated "more than $175 million in criminal proceeds" and caused "more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners" through the piracy of "numerous types of copyrighted works," the US Justice Department and FBI said in a joint statement.
Seven people have been charged with online piracy crimes in an indictment, dated Jan. 5 and unsealed in northern Virginia. Four of those suspects are already in custody, authorities said.
Among those charged are site founders Kim Dotcom and Kim Tim Jim Vestor and Chief Marketing Officer Finn Batato.
Megaupload CEO Swizz Beatz, a rapper and producer and husband to pop star Alicia Keys, was not listed among those charged.
Dotcom, Batato and two others were arrested Thursday in Auckland, New Zealand, by New Zealand authorities carrying out warrants on behalf of the US. Three suspects remain at large, the Justice Department said.
Megaupload.com is a content hosting site that allows users to upload content for others to then download.
But according to the indictment, "for more than five years the conspiracy has operated websites that unlawfully reproduce and distribute infringing copies of copyrighted works, including movies - often before their theatrical release - music, television programs, electronic books, and business and entertainment software on a massive scale."
As of Thursday afternoon, Megaupload.com had been shutdown.
The indictment charges the suspects with racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.
If convicted, each individual faces up to 55 years in prison, the Justice Department said.
Investigators said there was no connection between arrests in their two-year investigation and the political firestorm that erupted this week over a pending vote on the Stop Online Piracy Act, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The charges came a day after Washington lawmakers were inundated with complaints about legislation designed to crack down on the online sharing of pirated copies of music, movies and other material.