Ahmed Elbatrawy

Feds: Megaupload files may be deleted this week

Federal prosecutors say millions of Megaupload files may be deleted starting this week.

(CNN) — Federal prosecutors who accuse file-sharing site Megaupload of being a hotbed of digital piracy say the site’s customer files, presumably including perfectly legal ones, may be deleted starting Thursday.

“It is our understanding that the hosting companies may begin deleting the contents of the servers beginning as early as February 2, 2012,” U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride said in a letter filed in federal court.

The letter, submitted Friday in the Eastern District of Virginia, says that government investigators have finished executing search warrants at centers where Megaupload and MegaVideo files are stored.

MacBride wrote that the government copied some data, but didn’t remove any of it. Now that the search has been finished, the government no longer has access to the servers, he said.

Seven people associated with the popular site were indicted earlier this month on charges that they knowingly operated an “international organized criminal enterprise” allowing worldwide sharing of illegally pirated movies, music and other media. Lawyers for Megaupload, which is based in Hong Kong, have denied the charges.

The indictment claims the company has denied copyright holders an estimated $500 million and that those indicted have earned roughly $175 million in the process.

Lost in the shuffle, though, may be millions of legitimate files stored on the site by its users.

According to the government’s indictment, Megaupload has claimed more than 180 million registered users in its 5-year existence. While some of those users say they went to the site to look for movies, television shows and other material that may be copyrighted, numerous others have complained that they’ve lost access to personal and professional materials stored there.

MacBride’s letter said two Web-hosting companies, Carpathia Hosting and Cogent Communications, now have access to Megaupload files.

But one of those companies, Carpathia Hosting, says the government is wrong and that it’s MegaUpload, not them, that could return the data to users.

“Carpathia Hosting does not have, and has never had, access to the content on MegaUpload servers and has no mechanism for returning any content residing on such servers to MegaUpload’s customers,” the company said in a written statement.

The company said it’s not aware of why the government suggested February 2 as the day files could be deleted.

“We would recommend that anyone who believes that they have content on MegaUpload servers contact MegaUpload,” the statement reads. “Please do not contact Carpathia Hosting.”

Cogent Communications and the lawyers representing Megaupload did not immediately return to messages seeking comment for this story.

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Ahmed Elbatrawy