In what experts are calling the largest series of hack attacks in history, the faceless global organization of Internet activists claimed responsibility for taking down the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice and the world's biggest record label, Universal Music Group, along with the sites for the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Utah Chiefs of Police Association. The organization also threatened a similar action against the FBI's website.
At press time, the Universal and Utah Chiefs sites appeared to still be down, while the others had restored service. The MPAA issued a statement on Thursday about the hack. "Our website and many others, including the Department of Justice, were attacked today and the hacker group Anonymous is claiming responsibility for the attacks," it read. "We are working with law enforcement authorities to identify those responsible. Unfortunately, some groups believe that speech or ideas that they disagree with should be silenced. This could not be more wrong. No matter the point of view, everyone has a right to be heard. The motion picture and television industry has always been a strong supporter of free speech. We strongly condemn any attempts to silence any groups or individuals ... protecting copyrights and protecting free speech go hand in hand."
In response to the takedowns, the Twitter feed associated with Anonymous posted the group's manifesto: "We are Anonymous, We are legion, We never forgive, We never forget, Expect us." In a later communiqué, the group wrote, "The government takes down Megaupload? 15 minutes later Anonymous takes down government & record label sites."
The action came after the U.S. Department of Justice shut down the content-sharing site and charged its founder and several employees with copyright infringement and multiple racketeering charges. A federal indictment alleges that Megaupload, which allows users to transfer large files, has generated more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and costs copyright-holders more than $500 million in lost revenue from pirated movies, albums and other materials.
Swizz Beatz, Megaupload's CEO, was not charged in the indictment, and as of press time it was still unclear how the producer/rapper's involvement with the company will play into the case.
Four company executives were arrested in New Zealand by that country's authorities on Friday (January 20) morning, including Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom, 37. In addition to more than $8 million seized from financial institutions, the police seized several luxury cars from the group during a raid on 10 properties.
Though the raid and arrests came one day after a massive online protest against SOPA/PIPA, the proposed Congressional legislation aimed at curbing online piracy, an FBI official told Reuters that the two events were unrelated.
"The FBI contacted New Zealand Police in early 2011 with a request to assist with their investigation into the Mega Conspiracy," said Detective Inspector Grant Wormald from the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of New Zealand.