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Justice Department Busts Megaupload and Vestor PDF Print E-mail
Written by Staff   
Monday, 23 January 2012 13:13

 

Seven individuals and two corporations have been charged in the United States with running an international organized criminal enterprise allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy of numerous types of copyrighted works, through Megaupload.com and other related sites, generating more than $175 million in criminal proceeds and causing more than half a billion dollars in harm to copyright owners, the U.S. Justice Department and FBI announced.

This action is among the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought by the United States and directly targets the misuse of a public content storage and distribution site to commit and facilitate intellectual property crime.

The individuals and two corporations – Megaupload Limited and Vestor Limited – were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 5, 2012, and charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement. The individuals each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the charge of conspiracy to commit racketeering, five years in prison on the charge of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, 20 years in prison on the charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering and five years in prison on each of the substantive charges of criminal copyright infringement.

The indictment alleges that the criminal enterprise is led by Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, 37, a resident of both Hong Kong and New Zealand. Dotcom founded Megaupload Limited and is the director and sole shareholder of Vestor Limited, which has been used to hold his ownership interests in the Mega-affiliated sites.

In addition, the following alleged members of the Mega conspiracy were charged in the indictment:

* Finn Batato, 38, a citizen and resident of Germany, who is the chief marketing officer;

* Julius Bencko, 35, a citizen and resident of Slovakia, who is the graphic designer;

* Sven Echternach, 39, a citizen and resident of Germany, who is the head of business development;

* Mathias Ortmann, 40, a citizen of Germany and resident of both Germany and Hong Kong, who is the chief technical officer, co-founder and director;

* Andrus Nomm, 32, a citizen of Estonia and resident of both Turkey and Estonia, who is a software programmer and head of the development software division;

* Bram van der Kolk, aka Bramos, 29, a Dutch citizen and resident of both the Netherlands and New Zealand, who oversees programming and the underlying network structure for the Mega conspiracy websites.

Dotcom, Batato, Ortmann and van der Kolk were arrested in Auckland, New Zealand, by New Zealand authorities, who executed provisional arrest warrants requested by the United States. Bencko, Echternach and Nomm remain at large. Law enforcement also executed more than 20 search warrants in the United States and eight countries, seized approximately $50 million in assets and targeted sites where Megaupload has servers in Ashburn, Va., Washington, D.C., the Netherlands and Canada. In addition, the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., ordered the seizure of 18 domain names associated with the alleged Mega conspiracy.

According to the indictment, for more than five years the conspiracy has operated websites that unlawfully reproduce and distribute infringing copies of copyrighted works, including movies – often before their theatrical release – music, television programs, electronic books, and business and entertainment software on a massive scale. The conspirators' content hosting site, Megaupload.com, is advertised as having more than one billion visits to the site, more than 150 million registered users, 50 million daily visitors and accounting for four percent of the total traffic on the Internet. The estimated harm caused by the conspiracy's criminal conduct to copyright holders is well in excess of $500 million. The conspirators allegedly earned more than $175 million in illegal profits through advertising revenue and selling premium memberships.

The indictment states that the conspirators conducted their illegal operation using a business model expressly designed to promote uploading of the most popular copyrighted works for many millions of users to download. The indictment alleges that the site was structured to discourage the vast majority of its users from using Megaupload for long-term or personal storage by automatically deleting content that was not regularly downloaded. The conspirators further allegedly offered a rewards program that would provide users with financial incentives to upload popular content and drive web traffic to the site, often through user-generated websites known as linking sites. The conspirators allegedly paid users whom they specifically knew uploaded infringing content and publicized their links to users throughout the world.

In addition, by actively supporting the use of third-party linking sites to publicize infringing content, the conspirators did not need to publicize such content on the Megaupload site. Instead, the indictment alleges that the conspirators manipulated the perception of content available on their servers by not providing a public search function on the Megaupload site and by not including popular infringing content on the publicly available lists of top content downloaded by its users.

As alleged in the indictment, the conspirators failed to terminate accounts of users with known copyright infringement, selectively complied with their obligations to remove copyrighted materials from their servers and deliberately misrepresented to copyright holders that they had removed infringing content. For example, when notified by a rights holder that a file contained infringing content, the indictment alleges that the conspirators would disable only a single link to the file, deliberately and deceptively leaving the infringing content in place to make it seamlessly available to millions of users to access through any one of the many duplicate links available for that file.

The indictment charges the defendants with conspiring to launder money by paying users through the sites' uploader reward program and paying companies to host the infringing content.

Last Updated on Monday, 23 January 2012 13:14
 
Rap is an overall winner, but loser at the Grammys PDF Print E-mail
Written by Staff   
Monday, 23 January 2012 09:45

NEW YORK (AP) — Since its beginnings in the 1970s, rap music has transformed from an underground, street-based sound to a definitive part of pop culture, transcending race and becoming one of the strongest — and most prolific — voices of today's generation. But at the Grammy Awards, rap has had a long-lasting losing streak in the top categories.

The hip-hop sound — first recognized at the 1989 Grammys — has garnered numerous prestigious nominations over the years, and for 10 of the last 14 years, rap acts have either led or tied for most Grammy nominations. But rarely will a hip-hop act win one of the show's top four honors — album, song and record of the year, along with best new artist. Instead, rap acts tend to win rap awards.

50 Cent, who won his first and only Grammy two years ago, believes Grammy voters are out-of-touch and need a fresh outlook on what's going on in contemporary music.

"I think that the board is a lot older and they're conservative, so some of the content in the music is offensive on some level," said 50 Cent, who famously interrupted Evanescence's best new artist speech by walking onstage when he lost to the rock group in 2004. "There's a lot of people that don't accept that hip-hop culture is now pop culture."

This year, hip-hop leads the Grammys in nominations again, with Kanye West earning seven; it's his third year as the show's top-nominated act, and his fourth overall (he tied Mariah Carey and John Legend for most nominations at the 2006 Grammys). While his song "All of the Lights" is up for song of the year, his critically revered fifth album, "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," didn't score an album of the year nomination, a shock to many. Even Jimmy Jam — the chair emeritus of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences — was surprised by West's snub.

"I think he's one of the genius artists, and I'm saying this as a person who's worked with Michael Jackson and Prince, so I don't throw that word around lightly," Jam said. "So, yes, I was surprised."

West's album with Jay-Z, "Watch the Throne," was also left out of the top album category; both CDs are nominated for best rap album.

Jay-Z, who once boycotted the Grammys because of the show's lack of love for hip-hop, says Grammy nominations are "cool," but he doesn't use the accolades as a barometer of his success.

"The Grammys and all of those other things, they're fine and it's a good way for everyone to get together amongst their peers and collect some trophies at the end of the night, but my whole thing is for the people, as long as the people accept it — that's my real Grammy," Jay-Z said. "As long as it connects with an audience in a way."

But Steve Stoute, the former record executive who accused the Grammys of being irrelevant last year in a full-page advertisement in The New York Times after Eminem and Justin Bieber lost top awards, says there is a bigger problem. Stoute believes The Recording Academy doesn't have board members who understand hip-hop as a true art form.

"If (The Recording Academy) understood that, then (rappers) would be scoring technical points," he said. "They don't get the technical points."

In Grammy history, 14 hip-hop albums have received nominations for album of the year. Lauryn Hill has the distinction of being the first hip-hop artist to win album of the year for "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" in 1999, but the album, while featuring rap, was heavy on R&B. Hill also won best new artist that year, the second time a rap-based act had done so following Arrested Development's win in 1993. A rapper hasn't won the award since.

OutKast, the alternative, genre-bending hip-hop duo, followed in Hill's footsteps with an album of the year win in 2004 for the double disc " Speakerboxxx/The Love Below." It, too, was not strictly hip-hop, as Andre 3000 blended rock and even jazz for his half of the project.

But while there have been high-profile wins, what stands out more are the losses. No rapper has ever won record or song of the year, and both Eminem and West, each nominated three times, have failed to win the album of the year trophy in years where they appeared to be critical favorites.

At last year's Grammys, three of the five songs nominated for record of the year were rap smashes. Lady Antebellum's crossover hit, "Need You Now," ended up taking away the record and song of the year honors.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, the leader and drummer of the Roots, says the hip-hop community shares some of the blame for its losing streak. He says those in the genre aren't involved enough with The Recording Academy, its community and its events.

"We're not active members of (The Recording Academy) and I promise to take a more active role in that," said Questlove, who has won three Grammys. "I should definitely come and be more involved in that. It's taxing time-wise, but you know, I can either sit and complain ... or do something about it."

Jam says rap's losses are also a reflection of the Grammy membership, which he said is "traditionally very heavy" with members of the country, jazz and classical music worlds.

"We're a membership organization and the members vote. So, if the numbers of members who consider themselves of the hip-hop genre ... if those numbers are lower, then the results probably point to that fact," Jam said.

But Stoute, who is the author of "The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy," had harsh words for Jam, a founding member of funk-soul band The Time and best known for producing multiple hits for Janet Jackson, Usher, Boyz II Men and more with partner Terry Lewis. Stoute and Jam had a conversation after last year's awards, and Stoute was upset that Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" wasn't up for song of the year: At the Grammys, a track is not eligible for that award if it contains a sample or if it's not an original piece of work; that disqualifies much of rap, which relies heavily on sampling ("Empire State of Mind" samples The Moments' "Love on a Two-Way Street").

Stoute said Jam should be helping hip-hop, and blasted the renowned producer.

"What he's doing is not right," Stoute said of Jam. "And if he's supposed to be the guy who understands urban music because of his famed career as a producer ... (and) if he's not going to be sensitive to the creativity around hip-hop, I am sorry, we're in trouble."

Jam, who was The Recording Academy's chairman from 2005 to 2009, says his goal was to diversify the Grammy community, and if people have an issue with traditional Grammy rules, they should demand a change.

"You can write a proposal," Jam said. "I hope ... people step up to the challenge rather than dismiss it, which is the easy thing to do.'"

Jam also said he helped bring forth the best rap song award at the 2004 Grammys, which honors rap tracks that contain samples. Jam also implemented a new rule in 2009 that allowed anyone nominated for a Grammy to bypass the regular application process and automatically be made a member for a year. He said he did it so that nominated acts would easily be involved in the organization the following year.

"If hip-hop is the most nominated, then they should be the best represented according to what I did," Jam said.

 

Source: ABC.com

 
Jay-Z's Club 40/40 Shut Down a Day After Re-Opening PDF Print E-mail
Written by Staff   
Saturday, 21 January 2012 21:09

New York City's health department said it closed Jay-Z's Club 40/40 restaurant on Thursday, January 19, just 24 hours after the rapper relaunched it in a star-studded celebration. Inspectors found a number of problems which put diners at risk, including refrigerators which were not set at the right temperatures.

The restaurant racked up a shocking 69 health-code violations. The fridge was supposed to be set at 41 degrees but the restaurant put it at 60, the workers were preparing the food with bare hands, and the hot food were simply not kept hot enough on the counter. Inside the fridge, it was found 50 pounds of raw chicken wings, five pounds of raw shrimp and 100 turkey burgers at risk. Staff also mixed salsa with his bare hands.

"If you have a walk-in place with food like this, you put a hell of a lot of people at risk," a source told the NY Post. "A night of dinner and dancing should not include the risk of contracting food-borne illness." The health department immediately closed the venue and prevented customers from dining there. The place could receive "C" grade, which is the lowest grade for hygiene a restaurant can receive in the city. A hearing would determine the grade next month.


Jay-z 40/40 The Club 40/40 was re-opened after $10 million renovations within 10 months. The last inspection done in March 2010 resulted in 39 violations for problems like improperly handled food and unsanitary conditions.

Source: AceShowbiz

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 January 2012 15:30
 
Hip Hop Artist Mack 10 Sued PDF Print E-mail
Written by Staff   
Sunday, 22 January 2012 14:01

 

West Coast hip hop rap artist and actor Mack 10, aka Dedrick Rolison, has been ordered to pay a creditor a debt that includes illegal interest. TMZ reports that Mack borrowed $35,000 from Tadayuki Ito on April 24, 2010 and was required to pay 100% interest, or $70,000 total, by August 31st of the same year.

The interest level violates California law against excessive debt on loans. Rap artist Mack 10 borrowed an additional $65,000 from Ito four days later with the same interest agreement, bringing his total debt to $200,000, half of which was interest. Under California law, a creditor who charges interest that violates the usury law ends up getting no interest from the debtor; in this case Mack 10.

But that didn't turn out to be the case, as Ito sued Mack 10, who failed to show up for court. The judge then entered a default judgment of $229,668.86 which includes the debt, interest and legal fees. Now Mack 10 must pay the default judgment.

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 January 2012 23:59
 
Mary J. Blige to pen song for Sundance documentary PDF Print E-mail
Written by Staff   
Saturday, 21 January 2012 18:45

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Mary J. Blige is lending her support — and her voice — to a documentary showing at the Sundance Film Festival about sexual assault in the U.S. military.

Blige attended the Friday world premiere of "The Invisible War." Producer Amy Ziering says the multiple Grammy winner would write an original song for the film after the Sundance festival.

Blige's song, "Need Someone," plays over the closing credits of the film.

Written and directed by Kirby Dick, "The Invisible War" examines the trauma suffered by female and male victims of rape at the hands of their military colleagues and the difficulty they have in prosecuting their attackers.

Mary J Blige

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio also attended the premiere.

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 January 2012 15:31
 
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