Anonymous 2. And, uh, jeez, if you like uptime, you don’t want to annoy Anonymous. (CC-BY-SA) liryon.

Well, that happened. It’s a surreal episode that seems not to have any clear winners, as the US government on one side and hackers on the other face off over what is and isn’t freedom online. The mystery is, what will be the long-term outcome for people making content – or, for that matter, do these kinds of dramatics even really have any logic in your work at all?

While the music tech industry was holed away in the palm tree-lined walls of the Anaheim Convention Center, it seems full-blown war broke out over content on the Internet, in a surreal collision of players. Remember that bleak future painted by opponents of new US anti-piracy legislation, one in which your ability to upload your own content might get caught in the crossfire? It turns out it doesn’t necessarily require new laws, and it could look something like this:

MegaUpload file sharing site shut down for piracy by Feds [LA Times]

And then, in spectacular fashion, the hackers strike back…
Anonymous downs government, music industry sites in largest attack ever [RT]

Updated: The raid successfully stopped MegaUpload from operating … erm, except that it’s now right here, via a direct IP address and other sites appear to be phishing scams, so stay away.

It’s hard to imagine a more heated showdown. The US Department of Justice is behind the raid on MegaUpload, and just happened to time their crackdown the day after sites like Wikipedia blocked out content in protest of more restrictive rules in Congressional legislation, rules that claim to target just this kind of site. (MegaUpload was often named specifically, and – in fairness – had run rampant with pirated files. The authorities may have chosen the date as the founder’s birthday party, unrelated to yesterday’s blackout.) But that’s almost not the oddest thing about this story: it places a site endorsed by a number of high-profile musicians opposite labels like Universal Music Group. And don’t forget reports that the CEO is using an alias and is married to Alicia Keys, for added potential drama.

Now, clearly, MegaUpload was a venue for a significant amount of copyright infringement, and it’s inarguable that its owners benefited from that infringement. But artists themselves are already crying foul, partly because a service they used is unavailable. For instance, online radio station SOMA FM protests via Twitter:
“FBI shuts down megaupload .com, claiming no legit users. However lots of indie artists used it to send us (SomaFM) their new music.”

Show of hands. Are you now thinking:
1. I’m relieved! Now that the Federal government is cracking down on these sites, I can at last have the financial security as a musician of which I’ve always dreamed! Clearly, this will help drive more money into sales of music and other creative content, and we’ll all benefit!

2. Great. This will really mean is the next time I try to upload something, there will be all kind of annoying restrictions imposed voluntarily by services to avoid getting shuttered, all because people had to upload Adele albums. I’m just trying to send a darned demo.

3. Who was using MegaUpload, anyway?

Tally to follow.

In the meantime, these fireworks with Anonymous are sure entertaining to watch.

One alternative possibility occurs to me. Because it’s clearly possible to shut down MegaUpload without the benefit of damaging legislation, the MegaUpload closure actually makes an excellent case against the need for restrictive new laws. In other words, you can shut down an obvious infringer like MegaUpload, while leaving loads of other sites that support user content, and you didn’t have to change US law. So, even though Anonymous scored a dramatic protest, the raid itself might actually make a good case against new, tougher laws.

Downpressor, via Twitter, remarks “I’m not sorry to see sites like that go down.” And that’s the crux of this – a large number of parties actually do agree that some sites ought to go away through some sort of enforcement action. After the explosive saga here settles down, the upshot may be that this is left to enforcement mechanisms within the bounds of existing law, and not the kind of radical new laws recently proposed.

MegaUpload itself, though, may prove to be a bit divisive, because it will be seen through the eyes of some users who used it legitimately, even if those activities were a minority.