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Kim Dotcom is either a brilliant businessman leading the cloud revolution or he's a scoundrel enabling a generation of pirates, depending on who you ask, but one title he holds without dispute is that of expert showman.
Exactly a year after the U.S. Department of Justice raided and seized the assets of his previous endeavour, MegaUpload (which was either a cloud storage utility similar to DropBox in its most benign use cases, or a haven for all sorts of film, music and software piracy as the DOJ alleges), Dotcom launched its succesor, Mega, in extravagant style.
Dotcom setup a stage in the yard of his New Zealand mansion, one of the sites of last year's raid, and launched Mega in an event complete with faux government agents rapelling in from helicopters and miniskirt-clad female "guards" at his side.
On the surface, Mega is nearly identical to its controversial predecessor with one key wrinkle: All files uploaded to Mega will be encrypted, meaning they'll need a key to be accessed -- a key that will belong only to the user or those the user chooses to share it with.
Dotcom is marketing Mega as coming with upgraded "privacy" features, but the reality is that it may be more about shielding the company from the alleged liability that got Megaupload in trouble. Encryption means Dotcom and Mega can claim to have no idea what's being uploaded and shared via their servers, which the DOJ claims was not the case on Megaupload.
Another selling point for the new Mega is that it offers roughly ten times more free storage than many other popular cloud storage services like Apple's iCloud, Google Drive, Box and Amazon Cloud Drive (Mega actually offers 25 times more free space than Dropbox).
Although many Megaupload users who used the now shut-down service for legal file back-up and storage effectively lost them at the hands of the U.S. government, that risk hasn't stopped 1 million people from signing up for Mega in its first 24 hours, according to the company.
If Mega can stay on the straight and narrow and out of the courts, Dotcom is hoping his new company could become a powerful tool for promoting media creations rather than the den of pirates Megaupload was accused of harboring.
In addition to the just-launched storage service, Dotcom is planning another music service for later this year called Megabox, which will provide free online access to music while compensating the artists through advertising revenue.
Megabox is part of one of Dotcom's stated goals of putting the traditional music labels out of business.
“These new solutions will allow content creators to keep 90% of all earnings and generate significant income from the untapped market of free downloads,” Dotcom said in an interview about Megabox last year.
Megabox will require users to install an app in return for access to free music. The app works in a manner similar to that of an ad blocker, but instead of blocking some ads, it replaces them with ads that Mega wants you to see.
“Music will be free for users who install the Megakey App. Anyone who does not like the App can just purchase the music,” Dotcom says.
Handing over more system access to a company attached to Dotcom's tarnished brand will be a hard sell for many users, but likely not for those who already risk all sorts of malware infections to grab free music files in the form of (mostly illegal) torrents.
As for artists and content producers, Mega stands to become another substantial tool for gaining access to the promotional promiscuity of the pirate underworld.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but some artists have seen great success when pirates get ahold of their creations and spread it far and wide through dubious channels like Megaupload.
Author Paolo Coehlo famously uploaded his own books to the Pirate Bay and believes he wound up selling tens of thousands of extra copies in legitimate forms due to the exposure his work received via BitTorrent and other shady networks.
Kim Dotcom is one of the chief evangelists of this dogma that unfettered sharing (or what media conglomerates would call copyright violation) is the new way forward for media creators (what some might call crowdsourced promotion) and he hopes to build the platforms that blaze that trail.
Not all the factors are in favor of Dotcom or the new Mega. One of the conditions of his bail bans him from starting a new business similar to that of Megaupload.
- Eric Mack is Managing Editor for Crowdsourcing.org. He has covered business, technology and politics for more than a decade for major outlets including CNET, CBS, AOL, NPR, Wired, and the New York Times. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter and Google+. Also be sure to follow Crowdsourcing.org on Twitter and join our Crowdsourcing community on Google+.