Owners of three websites said to be involved in digital piracy in a new paper have objected to the label, saying they provide legitimate and legal services.
The paper, from brand protection firm MarkMonitor and the US Chamber of Commerce, measures the traffic at 91 sites it alleges are either engaged in digital piracy or in the sale of counterfeit goods. Forty-three alleged digital piracy sites generate 53 billion visits a year, the paper said.
The paper named three websites it classified as involved in digital piracy: Rapidshare.com, Megavideo.com and Megaupload.com. Those three sites account for 21 billion visits each year, the paper said.
MarkMonitor's paper isn't the first time Rapidshare and Megaupload have been linked to pirated materials. In October 2009, the Association of American Publishers estimated that half of the pirated books found by its members came from Rapidshare, which allows anonymous uploads. Other groups have also identified Rapidshare and Megaupload as hosts of pirated material.
But Rapidshare AG, based in Switzerland, and a spokeswoman for both Megavideo.com and Megaupload.com, registered in Hong Kong, criticised the paper.
"This defamation of RapidShare as a digital piracy site is absurd and we reserve the right to take legal action against MarkMonitor," the company said. "RapidShare is a legitimate company that offers its customers fast, simple and secure storage and management of large amounts of data via our servers."
Rapidshare offers takedown procedures similar to sites that aren't considered piracy sites by MarkMonitor, the company added. "RapidShare offers the exact same take down features to copyright owners as YouTube does," the company's statement said. "Now, where is the difference?"
Megaupload and Megavideo are also legitimate businesses "operating within the boundaries of the law", said Bonnie Lam, a spokeswoman for the sites.
Both sites include links on their front pages where copyright owners can ask to have files removed. The sites, which host billions of documents, photos and other files, comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Lam said.
"In five years of operation we have not been sued by a single content owner because we are protected by the DMCA and similar legislation in almost every jurisdiction," she said in an email. If content owners "would have legal grounds they would have taken us to court by now. We suggest that they attack us within the legal system and stop labelling us until they have something to show."
The sites don't condone online piracy, she added. "But it's a reality and not our fault," she said. "We provide free hard disk space in the cloud. That's it."
Rapidshare questioned the methodology in the paper, saying MarkMonitor's numbers ignore the legal traffic on the website.
"The authors conclude that RapidShare has to be the biggest digital piracy site from looking at the number of page visits, totally ignoring the fact that millions of customers use the service for perfectly legitimate purposes," the company said. "Private customers use RapidShare to share their personal pictures, videos and documents or to make backup copies of their hard drives. Business clients rely on our services to exchange large files with colleagues at different sites."
Rapidshare customers who upload unauthorised material are "in the absolute minority," the company added. Rapidshare is working to educate policymakers about its business, the company said.
MarkMonitor stands by its classifications in the paper, said Te Smith, the company's vice president of communications. The paper acknowledges that some of the sites it classifies as involved in digital piracy offer takedown processes, but the action must be initiated by the content owners. "We believe the topic is important and deserves a healthy discussion," she said.
MarkMonitor employees hand-checked the sites before including their traffic numbers in the paper, she added. "We didn't want to be counting false positives," Smith said.
The Motion Picture Association of America said the MarkMonitor study shows the need for new legislation to protect copyright owners.
"As the report demonstrates, a small number of rogue websites are generating mind-boggling traffic in pirated content," Bob Pisano, MPAA's president and interim CEO, said in a statement. "Billions of visits to these easily searchable websites ... translate into billions in lost revenue and lost American jobs."