(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department website was down Thursday after annoucing the indictment of seven individuals and two companies behind the popular file-sharing website Megaupload.com. About one hour after the announcement, the Justice Department’s website, www.Justice.gov, came under cyberattack with a denial-of-service attack. Anonymous, the hacktivist computer group, is claiming responsibility.
The indictment alleges that the website, which has been touted by stars will.i.am, Kim Kardashian and Puff Daddy, and a shell company associated with the website, Vestor Limited, caused an estimated half-billion dollars in copyright losses and made an estimated $175 million in proceeds. The website was established in 2005 and at one point ranked as the 13th-most-visited website on the Internet.
The feds indicted the site’s founder, Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz, a 37-year-old resident of Hong Kong and New Zealand. He was arrested in New Zealand by New Zealand authorities.
Also indicted were employees Bram van der Kolk, aka Bramos, 29, Julius Bencko, Finn Batato, Sven Echternach, Mathias Ortmann and Andrus Nomm. New Zealand authorities arrested Batato, Ortmann and van der Kolk. Bencko, Echternach and Nomm remain at large, officials said.
The indictment accuses the suspects of being members of “the Mega Conspiracy, a worldwide criminal organization whose members engaged in criminal copyright infringement and money laundering on a massive scale.”
The case comes a day after Internet companies and websites such as Google, WordPress and Wikipedia protested about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).
The indictment returned by a grand jury in Virginia alleges, “In exchange for payment, the Mega Conspiracy provides the fast reproduction and distribution of infringing copies of copyrighted works from its computer servers located around the world. Premium users of the site…are able to download and upload files with few, if any, limitations.”
Describing the operation of the site and relations with users, the indictment noted, “For much of its operation, the Mega Conspiracy has offered an ‘Uploader Rewards’ Program, which promised premium subscribers transfers of cash and other financial incentives to upload popular works, including copyrighted works, to computer servers under the Mega Conspiracy’s direct control and for the Conspiracy’s ultimate financial benefit.”
The seven suspects have been charged with participating in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement.
If convicted they could face a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Euan McKirdy and Natalie L. Gallón, CNN
Aria Hangyu Chen, Special to CNN