The crackdown on file-sharing site Megaupload is expected to do little to reduce overall piracy of music, software and Hollywood movies, while potentially stifling emerging means of distributing content online.
In the wake of last week's surprising indictment of the digital storage company and seven executives, other companies have begun changing their policies even as Megaupload officers maintained their innocence in a first court appearance in New Zealand.
Filesonic.com stopped allowing people to download files that they had not uploaded themselves, while Uploaded.to blocked access from Internet locations in the United States.
However, just 3 percent of US Internet users relied on digital lockers like Megaupload in the third quarter, according to NPD market research, compared with 9 percent who used peer-to-peer networks, which allow sharing of files among consumers' computers with little or no central organization.
Peer-to-peer systems, including BitTorrent and PirateBay, might gain more activity after the Megaupload charges, analysts said, while users may be afraid to upload content to lockers for fear they will lose access in a similar shutdown.
"I don't think you'll see more file sharers per se, but the amount downloaded over the torrents might rise," said NPD's Russ Crupnick. But the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America said at least some users would balk at the higher complexity of peer-to-peer sites.
Lockers are "more user friendly. I doubt there will be a wholesale shift" to torrents, said MPAA Senior Vice President Kevin Suh.
PirateBay appeared to ignore the demise of Megaupload in its communications with users on Monday. In its blog, writers posted about how PirateBay saw the future of copying, evolving beyond digital format to physical objects it dubbed "physibles", and about what artists it might promote in coming months.
In a press release issued last week about proposed anti-piracy legislation in the US, PirateBay compared its role to the founding fathers of the US and took the position that it fights for freedom of speech and the equality of all people.
Skip Hollywood Middlemen
Though Megaupload has been around since 2005, lockers have only gone mainstream in the past year. Amazon.com Inc, Apple Inc and Google Inc all adopted some version of the technology that permits digital content to be uploaded for the purpose of backing up user data or making content available to multiple devices or outsiders.
For some content producers, the new avenues are a way to skip the middlemen in Hollywood and reach their fans directly. Last month, the comedian Louis C.K., complaining of a lack of royalties from conventional DVD sales, offered downloads of a one-man show for USD 5 from his own website and sold more than USD 1 million worth.