by Jason Koebler

The popular file-sharing service says it's gone on the straight and narrow

After declaring the FBI's raid on Megaupload a success, an executive at Paramount Pictures released a hit list poster targeting five of the next-largest file-sharing websites. Rapidshare, one of the most popular, was conspicuously absent.

That's because the Swiss company says it's gone on the straight and narrow. Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it announced the first-ever "responsible practices" for cloud storage companies. "RapidShare has faced its own controversies, but for years now it has been working diligently on multiple fronts to distinguish itself as an important and responsible company in this growing industry," the practices sheet says.

A responsible company, it says, should take steps to go above and beyond the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which requires Internet services to delete illegal content from their servers. That commitment to deleting copyrighted files should let users rest easy at night, says Daniel Raimer, RapidShare's general counsel. Millions of Megaupload users' files are in limbo after the FBI shut down its servers.

"We can give users a guarantee that their files are safe," he says. Megaupload's attitude toward piracy was "so far from what we're doing and what we want to stand for," he adds.

RapidShare's transformation from a potentially suitable service for pirates to legitimate online file locker has taken a couple of years -- and plenty of copyrighted material still exists on the site, but the company says it is vigilant in taking such material down once it's discovered. About a third of its staff of 60 is dedicated to removing illegal files, RapidShare says. In 2010, the company took a huge hit in traffic after it ended its "rewards" program, which incentivized users to upload popular, and often illegal, content. Although the company has seen traffic increase by about a third since Megaupload was raided in January, Raimer says pirates hoping to switch from Megaupload aren't welcome at RapidShare.

"Pirates shouldn't assume we're happy about them using our system in the future," he says. "Megaupload had legitimate users as well, who are welcome to use RapidShare. When it comes to copyright infringement, we're going to maintain our strict anti-abuse policy and make it clear that pirates should go to another provider."

I spoke with Raimer about the company's responsible practices document and the future of online file lockers.

What brings you to D.C.? Why are you releasing the list of responsible practices?

We have plenty of ideas about what a responsible company should do, but there's no real standards when it comes to the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act]. There are no real clear guidelines about quality of service, erasing copyright infringement, privacy -- it's all in the gray zone, and we think it's important because cloud computing is the next big thing. We should have industry commitment and documents saying what everyone believes should be the minimum standards.

Do you feel like the movie and music industries have unfairly targeted RapidShare by lumping you together with Megaupload and other file-sharing sites?

Saying "unfairly targeted" sounds like I'm whining and complaining, and I don't want to do that. Those guys are doing their jobs, and we have to do our job by explaining what we stand for. We've had conversations with copyright holders who are reasonable and understand there's limitations for what we can do [with regards to deleting pirated content], other ones were not that reasonable. But that's true for all types of businesses -- the tech industry has some unreasonable people as well.

So what do you stand for?

I think what's really important to us is being dedicated to consumer privacy. I believe it's so important we want to have a separate event for that. I want to talk about measures to cut down on copyright infringement today, but it's also important for us to respect consumers' needs for privacy. Five years from now, everyone will be using cloud storage without even knowing they're doing it. We need to find a perfect balance with consumers' expectations of privacy and the legitimate concerns of copyright holders who don't want their content to be distributed illegally.

How do you find and take down copyrighted material?

We have a bunch of different approaches. Obviously, we respond to take-down notices [from copyright holders], but that is the bare minimum. We try to go further than that. There are websites out there where some users upload movies and then link to them. We go to these websites and delete files we'd see that were illegitimate. Today, we have a crawling engine, a bot software that is constantly monitoring certain websites. When it finds something, it's sent to anti-abuse staff. We don't have automatic take-downs. It's all done by human beings, but we have software that's helping them.

A big controversy surrounding Megaupload is what happened to legitimate users' files -- a lot of those files are still in limbo. Knowing that you have illegal content on your site, can you guarantee that the same thing won't happen to your users if you're raided?

We can give users a guarantee that their files are safe. You have to keep in mind why Megaupload was shut down. It's not about having a lot of illegal files being available. If you have a powerful technology like ours, people will illegally put up copyrighted content. You can find millions of illegal links with the help of Google, but Google's not going to be shut down. It's not about the files, it's about the alleged conduct of the Megaupload management. If you look at documents regarding the Megaupload raid and the arrest of Kim Dotcom, it's about allegations of himself uploading illegal files, about allegedly telling staff to not take files down because they wanted to make money with them.

That's so far from what we're doing and what we want to stand for. I don't see any parallel situation coming with RapidShare. The drastic measures taken by the government regarding Megaupload were probably, according to them, necessary because the Megaupload operators were hiding. No one knew where the company was. It was unclear who the operators were. That's something that has nothing in common with RapidShare. Switzerland is far away from the United States, but it's a reputable company, a reputable country. We're available. We're not hiding. There's no need for the FBI to take drastic action. If someone has a question, even law enforcement, they can contact us. We're willing to help with investigations.

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