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Ukraine’s Top File-Hosting Site Closes Amid Cyberpolice Crackdown

  • Christopher Miller

People protested against the shutdown of ex.ua outside the Interior Ministry office in Kyiv in February 2012. The move outraged users and retaliatory DDoS attacks against government websites ensued. Four days after the police raid, ex.ua was back up and running.

People protested against the shutdown of ex.ua outside the Interior Ministry office in Kyiv in February 2012. The move outraged users and retaliatory DDoS attacks against government websites ensued. Four days after the police raid, ex.ua was back up and running.

KYIV -- Ukraine's largest file-hosting website has said it will close as the country’s cyberpolice crack down on Internet services allowing copyrighted music, video, and software to be illegally downloaded.

The move, which comes a day after a police raid on the offices of another Ukrainian file-hosting site, raises the specter that the days of Ukraine being a safe haven for Internet piracy may be ending as the pro-Western Kyiv government tries to come into line with international law.

Ex.ua told its millions of users in a letter published on November 16 that it decided to shutter after receiving "threats, blackmail...and DDoS attacks" -- actions it described as jeopardizing their personal information and files stored on the site. It did not clarify who exactly was pressuring the site but that some of the problems had come from the "international level."

The letter continued: "Ex.ua worked within the legal framework. Not everyone likes such an interpretation of the law, but the [site] has always respected the laws of Ukraine."

Ex.ua asked its users to delete their files from the site before November 30 and told its e-mail users that the e-mail service will soon be moved to a new domain.

The ex.ua announcement came one day after the offices of fs.to were raided by cyberpolice following an appeal by the Motion Picture Association of America and Ukrainian copyright holders who found intellectual property belonging to them on the site.

The cyberpolice unit said in a statement that it believed 19 people were involved in the creation of fs.to and that it had started criminal proceedings into the matter.

Ukraine has long been a safe haven for Internet pirates who have exploited its legal loopholes to operate free of prosecution for copyright infringement. The Pirate Bay, one of the world's largest and most notorious sites for pirated content, reportedly once had servers here.

Founded in 2009, ex.ua was free for users, who were allowed to share files up to 50 gigabytes. The site boasted revenue in the millions from advertisements, according to a 2012 Forbes Ukraine report.

In a 2010 complaint to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Recording Industry Association of America described ex.ua as one of the top pirate sites online.

Ex.ua faced pressure from Ukrainian authorities in January 2012 when they seized 200 servers with more than six petabytes of information after complaints from companies like Microsoft and Adobe, which had discovered pirated versions of their products on the site. The move outraged users and retaliatory DDoS attacks against government websites ensued.

Four days after the police raid, ex.ua was back up and running.

On November 17, Ukrainians who used the site to download pirated content and to share and store personal files began a social media hashtag campaign encouraging it to continue operations.

"My favorite file-hosting service ex.ua's going to be closing and I’m very sorry about that," wrote Roman Burko, the pseudonymous founder of Ukrainian open-source investigative site InformNapalm, using the hashtags "I support ex.ua" and "Return ex.ua."

As many expressed remorse, ex.ua hinted that Ukraine's crackdown could backfire.

"The darkest hour is just before the dawn," it said, adding that a period of "uncontrolled torrent-piracy" may be necessary to force copyright holders to give users "the opportunity to get content legally."

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    Christopher Miller

    Christopher Miller is a correspondent based in Kyiv and covers the former Soviet republics. He can be reached at millerjchristopher@gmail.com

     

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