The Internet has begun to resemble the America of the Old West as lawless gangs of hackers target major institutions and government sites around the world.
The hacker-gang Anonymous, which touts itself as a "hacktivist" group, reacted quickly to the US led shutdown of Megauploads and started hitting targets in revenge within minutes.
"We Anonymous are launching our largest attack ever on government and music industry sites," Anonymous posted to Pastebin. "The FBI didn't think they would get away with this did they? They should have expected us."
The group further fomented, "Artists be creative, Singers be lyrical, writers spread our word! We will not be silenced! We are Anonymous! We are legion! We do not Forgive! We do not forget!"
Anonymous listed targets including justice.gov, universalmusic.com, riaa.org, mpaa.org, copyright.gov and the aforementioned Department of Justice and FBI web sites. Both the DOJ and Universal sites were successfully knocked offline for a brief period.
The attacks came after an announcement by the US Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) late Thursday that seven people associated with Megauploads have been charged with money laundering, racketeering and copyright infringement.
An additional suspect in Hong Kong using the nomme de guerre “Kim Dotcom” is expected to be extradited to the US, as well. The accused face up to 20 years in Federal prison if convicted. The Federal penal system does not have parole.
Megauploads claims to have more than 100 million registered users, 45 million unique visitors daily and more than 70 per cent of the world's Fortune 500 companies as account holders.
According to US Attorneys behind the shutdown, Megauploads has generated $175m in criminal proceeds and cost the entertainment industry $500m.
The Department of Justice press-release self-hailing the shut-down comes just one day after popular protests against the US Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Critics say officials in Washington are using the arrests to garner publicity and flex their muscles using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to cow opposition to new legislation and force legislators to side with "law and order."
A much hailed Internet blackhout led by Wikipedia resulted in Google and other sites collecting over 4 million signatures against SOPA and PIPA - and led 18 US lawmakers to drop their backing of the bills.
Loz Kaye, head of the UK Pirate Party, which opposed the US bills tweeted, "The Pirate Party UK and I are alarmed at the US's continued efforts to enforce its excessive and unpopular copyright legislation outside of the USA."
"US authorities claim that the timing of this move was in no way designed to coincide with the current popular backlash against excessive 'anti-piracy' legislation being pushed in the USA, such as SOPA and PIPA. I see it as a shot across the bows of a growing popular movement."
Internet observers also say the government's severe reaction to the world's most popular download site is surprising – and likely to fuel popular discontent with US copyright laws, especially the DMCA.
When Viacom made many of the same charges against YouTube that the RIAA did against Megauploads it didn't land Eric Schmidt or Chad Hurley arrested, they note. Especially in light of Megauploads willingness to take down content via a built in "abuse" tool.
They also note that the RIAA could have sought recourse in civil court, where Megauploads has appeared to not only to defend itself, but to file its own infringement cases against competitors.
The DMCA used to close Megauploads has been broadly criticized as curtailing free expression, retarding research, gutting fair use exceptions, impeding aftermarket competition, and being an invasion of online privacy in the name of corporate interests.