DropBox - sharebox

DropBox – sharebox | Photo Credit: eugeniot

When it comes to file sharing sites and illegal content, Dropbox is rarely among the names of those that cause concern.


In the past, however, the company has had to defend itself against claims that it facilitates piracy, mentioned in the same breath as the now defunct Megaupload. Given that the latter has become something of a landmark anti-piracy victory, it’s easy to see why legitimate file sharing sites would want to distance themselves.

Nowadays, Dropbox piracy is something that rarely comes into question. It’s actually seen as something of a model for building a successful file sharing service while also managing the tricky topic of preventing pirate activity within its walls. So much so, in fact, that it is now coming under more fire for enforcing copyright law than for infringing it.

This was the case over the weekend, when a minor backlash occurred over claims that the Dropbox piracy monitors include scanning private folders for potentially illegal content.

Oddly enough, the measures that Dropbox employed in this instance appear to be the same that it used to defend against those allegations of promoting piracy a couple of years ago. At that time, the service stated:

“Dropbox explicitly prohibits copyright abuse. We’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure that our sharing feature is not misused… and we prohibit users from creating links to files that have been subject to a DMCA notice. We want to offer an easy way for people to share their life’s work while respecting the rights of others.”


The DMCA notice is what worried users alerted to the possible breach of privacy, but in reality the company’s system monitors only a unique file marker that flags duplicates of content under copyright. While this effectively prevents a user from sharing that content to others and infringing that copyright, the system is unaware of the file content or its context. The measure is a simple scan and flag process which actually balances the need for privacy and anti-piracy rather well.

The situation serves to remind us all just how thin is the line between facilitating piracy and breaching privacy for file sharing services.

Any site that permits people to share content far and wide carries a responsibility to both user and creator. It must maintain the integrity and security of its users storage space, while also ensuring that its service doesn’t become the pipes through which unlicensed content is spread without compensation to the original creator.

For all the potential to fall on the wrong side of either requirement, Dropbox appears to be balancing them in a way that many others could learn from.

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