Far away from the grind of schoolwork, I have had a chance during this off-term to catch up on some of fall’s best television programming. In the past few days, I have dashed through the spell-binding fourth season of Breaking Bad. With two episodes left, and one hell of cliffhanger fresh in mind, I was ready to dust off the season in a single sitting. 

I was prepared for excitement, certainly some blood, maybe even tears. But what I wasn’t expecting was this message:

“This domain name associated with the website has been seized pursuant to an order issued by a U.S. District Court. A federal grand jury has indicted several individuals and entities allegedly involved in the operation of and related Websites charging them with the following federal crimes: Conspiracy to commit racketeering, conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and criminal copyright infringement.”

Talk about a letdown.

On Thursday, federal prosecutors shut down the popular file-sharing site Megaupload, as well as family-sites like Megavideo. Four company executives, including the site’s founder Kim Schmitz (or Kim Dotcom, depending on who you ask), were arrested in New Zeleand after the Department of Justice issued an indictment accusing them of the crimes above.

This news comes one day after a mass online protest against two now-infamous bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Websites like Wikipedia and Reddit shut down their operations entirely, while others like Google prompted users to send a message to their representatives in Congress.

While the indictment might be unrelated to SOPA and PIPA, as the DOJ suggests, it points to the beginning of a new trend of greater Internet censorship.

It has also spurred new attacks from the hacker group known as Anonymous. Known for their iconic Guy Fawkes masks, the group launched a series of so-called “denial of service” attacks across the Internet. Anonymous has taken credit on Twitter for the disruption of the DOJ’s homepage, as well as websites belonging to the FBI, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, and Universal Music.

Though remains offline, domain names that purport to be new iterations of Megaupload have sprouted across the Web. Some of these are simply platforms for spam and spyware, while others lack any functionality at all.

In the end, it is hard to absolve a website like Megaupload. Although some use the website to host personal, non-copyrighted material, most of the traffic on the site is for illegal purposes. But in choosing to seize the domain, the DOJ has set a worrisome precedent for the future. Check out Melanie’s post below for more information on what’s in store for the Internet.  

–Thomas L. Hauch