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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene, in for Steve Inskeep.

In the war against piracy, there were some major attacks yesterday. The federal government shut down one of the Internet's largest file-sharing websites, Megaupload, on charges of copyright infringement. And that spurred a group of hackers to claim their largest attack ever. The group that calls itself Anonymous says it shut down the websites of the FBI and the Justice Department for a while yesterday. Joining us to explain what's happening on the Internet is NPR's Laura Sydell.

Laura, good morning.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what exactly are these charges against this website Megaupload?

SYDELL: Well, first, let me explain what it does. Megaupload is this site where people can upload large files, files that are too large to send via an email. And, you know, you can use this legitimately, like say I wanted to send you a big audio file, because I work at NPR. I could use it for that.

GREENE: I could send you my wedding video, and you could upload it.

SYDELL: Exactly. That is right. But what the Justice Department said is that, for the most part, this site is not used legally, that people are trading all kinds of copyrighted material - movies, music, all that kind of stuff. And so they have gone and they have charged them with all kinds of pretty serious things, including, you know, criminal conspiracy. And they can face up to 20 years in prison.

And the Justice Department actually coordinated with authorities in New Zealand and picked up four of the executives from the company in New Zealand.

GREENE: Hmm, right. I saw the indictment is claiming that they were the 13th most popular site on the entire World Wide Web, which is a pretty big deal. And weren't they the site that Will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys, I mean, they put out a video last month supporting them?

SYDELL: Yeah. Here's where it gets really colorful. Yes, that's right. And the guy that they say is the CEO of this company, Swizz Beatz, he's a rapper. And it's unclear if he's really CEO. But he's one of Jay-Z's producers. He's also married to Alicia Keys, and he's friendly with these people. And he said: Hey, will you be in my video? And all these artists were in a video promoting Megaupload.

And then Universal actually sent a take down notice and said take down the video. And Megaupload and Swizz Beatz, you know, fired back and said: We're not taking it down. We have the legal right. So there was that spat going on.

The founder of this company is a big guy who lived in a huge mansion in New Zealand. Apparently, they confiscated like $6 million worth of really expensive cars. He had a black Rolls Royce with a license plate that said God on it. It's quite a colorful story.

GREENE: That's a lot of money tied up in this business, it sounds like.

SYDELL: Yes, there is. Apparently, he had made something like $42 million off of Megaupload.

GREENE: Well, soon after this indictment was revealed, we have these hackers who call themselves Anonymous. And they said they started attacking the DOJ and the FBI. I mean, government websites? What exactly did they do?

SYDELL: Well, what they did is - and just to make it clear, they didn't, like, go in and steal anything from the FBI, no secret documents. They essentially kind of shutdown the site. So if you tried to go to the website, it would be slow, or you couldn't get to the FBI website or the Justice Department website.

This group has a history of doing this. It's a protest group that essentially is a group of hackers. And they were, for example, supporters of WikiLeaks. And when WikiLeaks released all those documents and - from the State Department, Anonymous attacked people who attacked WikiLeaks, like, PayPal shut down WikiLeaks' account. And they attacked PayPal. So they have a history of doing this. And they essentially did this to the Justice Department, because obviously, they think Megaupload is OK.

GREENE: Well, on Wednesday, a lot of people know about Wikipedia, the website, going dark as part of the protest against this anti-piracy legislation. Is this all related?

SYDELL: No. It isn't, really. There is, right now, legislation pending in Congress that would, some people say, force websites to censor certain sites. And so they've been protesting this legislation. But it was not connected, other than both are about the government doing something about what Hollywood and the entertainment business says is a huge problem, which is theft of copyrighted material online.

GREENE: All right, Laura. Thank you very much.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

GREENE: That's NPR's Laura Sydell, speaking to us from San Francisco.

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