Oh god! Megaupload has fallen and its brethren are dropping like flies! The age of the cyberlocker is passing. No longer will we be able to host a large file somewhere for free and have someone else download it.
Actually, it’s not quite so dire, but it’s true that a number of major file hosts have either shut down, closed part of their service, or changed the way they operate. It’s not the first time that file-sharing tools have received a shock to the system, though, and this little contraction is less the end of an era and more a winnowing of the herd. That’s a good thing.
A few sites have been tracking the changes and shutdowns. At Fileserve and Filesonic you can only download items you’ve uploaded yourself. Sites like Filejungle, 4shared, and Uploadstation are deleting premium accounts and affiliate programs. Uploaded.to has banned all US IP addresses. And the list goes on. There are dozens, some taking more serious actions than others. TorrentFreak has been keeping track, and the ever-zealous commenters there are full of information as well.
Services that have operated more cautiously from the beginning, things like Yousendit and Mediafire, aren’t feeling the heat. The restrictions they’ve placed on their service, and their more rigorous attention to enforcing copyright infringement, means that they can go on as they have done for years. It’s sites that have built a model with sharing as the currency that are spooked. That just means that this model is done for. It was never going to last forever. Neither did Napster.
But the demand for file hosting isn’t going away any time soon. Until point to point transfers and personal sharing via one’s own server are practical solutions, file lockers are a great solution. Where there’s demand, companies will try to fill it and will compete on business models by which they can generate money from that demand. If those models stop generating money (demand dries up or the tech is obsoleted), the sites move on. And if those models turn out to be questionably legal (as in the case of Megaupload and imitators), the sites also move on.
What will the next generation of file lockers be like? The differences will be protective, shielding link pages from Google, streamlining the “report this file” process, building a wall between the site administrators and the users’ activity so they can’t be held liable. Building your site carefully around the current reach of the law has always been the rule, and it will continue to be the rule going forward. Sites that found themselves in danger of being included in copycat takedowns just acted to preserve the future of their business.
For the present, if you need to send a file too big for email to a few people, there are plenty of services that let you do it. The systematized, compensated share networks that tacitly relied on illegal files to bring in traffic were a form that is being phased out, that’s all. Like so many services that have had to reinvent themselves in the face of looming illegality, they’ll come back stronger and better in a few months and this old model, lucrative as it was for many, will be forgotten.