This is a story about customer service. Or maybe it’s about file sharing, copyright infringement, due process, and piracy.

Or maybe it’s just about being very, very careful with the way you store your data.

On February 2, 2012, Carpathia, the company that was hosting data for MegaUpload before their very large collection of information was taken off-line by a United States Justice Department action,  will be free to delete MegaUpload’s data.

And oh boy, are you glad you aren’t the folks at Carpathia who have to decide whether or not to do that.

Turns out that when MegaUpload got shut down, Carpathia was ordered to hold onto the information they were hosting for MegaUpload until the investigation into the alleged distributor of copyrighted items was complete. Yesterday, Carpathia issued a press release pointing out that they have no access to MegaUpload’s data. In case it disappears, here’s the wording:

Dulles, Va. – January 30, 2012 – In reference to the letter filed by the U.S. Department of Justice with the Eastern District of Virginia on Jan. 27, 2012, 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 reference to the Feb. 2, 2012 date in the Department of Justice letter for the deletion of content is not based on any information provided by Carpathia to the U.S. Government. We would recommend that anyone who believes that they have content on MegaUpload servers contact MegaUpload.  Please do not contact Carpathia Hosting.

Here’s the translation:

“At Carpathia, we can delete MegaUpload’s entire account, but we can’t get at the information stored inside their servers, so please don’t make your problem with data that MegaUpload was hosting for you into Carpathia’s problem. We’re just the people who were holding all that stuff; we didn’t know what it was.”

Which of course is true; no reputable host keeps passwords to the information for their clients; if I was to stop paying the company that hosts Answer Guy Central they could shut off my access to it, or take it off-line for safekeeping, or delete it, but they couldn’t edit it and if you had left comments here and wanted to see that subset of our information after they turned us off, they’d have no way to give it to you.

So Carpathia is preemptively telling all the people who were storing data at MegaUpload—legitimate or otherwise—not to bother them with a problem for which they have no solution.

But here’s the real story: if Carpathia did have a way to solve the problem, they’d create an even bigger one—for themselves.

If Carpathia had access to the information being stored on MegaUpload’s servers, the very same laws that were used against MegaUpload could be used against Carpathia.

Remember that whenever file sharing and copyright are discussed by legal types the matter comes down to “you are responsible for what you host and claiming you didn’t know what it was isn’t good enough”. MegaUpload knew what they were hosting, and even if there were legitimate storage repositories at MegaUpload, the illegal, copyright-violating stuff created a problem for them. Carpathia has what’s called “plausible deniability”. Their position is “we just provided a sandbox and have no idea whether that sandbox was full of sand or the world’s largest cache of copyrighted materials”. So Carpathia can’t help MegaUpload’s customers even if they want to.

And of course, they don’t. Where’s Carpathia’s incentive?

So really, with Carpathia having no moral need to help out MegaUpload’s customers or provide them with service, the story turns to a few key points:

First, as I’ve told you many times, you’re responsible for everything that happens to your computers and the data you store on them. In this era of cloud services, the definition of “your computers” gets broader, of course, and the practical reality behind the idea that computers are hard rears its ugly head. You do have good backups, right?

Second, with mixed signals like Elvis Costello all but telling his fans to pirate his music and someone as influential and successful as Fred Wilson admitting to being a movie pirate, how are we to tell what’s OK any more (<wink wink>)?

Third, when smart people like Louis CK can bypass the traditional distribution channels for media (these are the people behind the shut-down of MegaUpload, by the way), and pocket over a million dollars in a week, aren’t we seeing—clearly—that business change is happening, whether or not we’re ready for it?

Yes, Kim Dotcom is a bad guy, and no, MegaUpload shouldn’t be allowed to operate. But knee jerk reactions to things that are changing are the wrong way to go. I admire the PR person that oh-so-carefully phrased Carpathia’s release. It was a great example of managing business change the right way.

Now: how are you managing business change?

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