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Ukraine: Netizens React to Popular File-Sharing Website's Shutdown

On January 31, 2012, Ukrainian Internet users learned that the country’s biggest file-sharing site, Ex.ua [ru], was shut down due to repeated copyright violations. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior, among the companies that filed a lawsuit [uk] against Ex.ua were Microsoft, Adobe, Graphisoft and others.

Ex.ua was one of the most popular websites in the country and accounted for 15-25% [uk] of Ukraine’s in-country traffic. It required no paid subscription and attracted millions of users who freely shared pirated video and audio files, games and software.

The news of the site's shutdown caused quite a stir online, with many netizens criticizing the government for going after Ex.ua and calling for its restoration.

Christina Vinovska (@chris_vinovska) tweeted a common appeal:

return #exua immediately!

People are protesting against the shutdown of Ex.ua outside the Interior Ministry in Kyiv. Photo by Sergei Svetlitsky, copyright © Demotix (1/02/12).

People are protesting against the shutdown of Ex.ua outside the Interior Ministry in Kyiv. Photo by Sergei Svetlitsky, copyright © Demotix (1/02/12).

While many echoed her plea, others decided to take action both offline (photos of the Feb. 1 protest in Kyiv are here) and online.

Thus, following the release of the online statement about Ex.ua's shutdown by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry's website went down and remained periodically inaccessible due to “an increased number of visitors and possible DDoS attacks” [uk].

By that time many Twitter, Vkontakte and Facebook users were actively sharing detailed instructions [ru] on how to overload the servers of selected websites. The target list included websites of Ukraine’s President Victor Yanukovych, the pro-presidential Party of Regions, the Cabinet of Ministers, the Parliament, and others.

What seemed to begin as a number of decentralized attempts, quickly turned into a mass organized effort, with Ex.ua supporters forming a “Free Ex.Ua” [ru] group on a popular social network Vkontakte [ru], which gathered over 6,000 members during the first hours of its existence (currently, there are over 41,000 members).

By February 1, the Presidential website was completely down [uk] and the Ministry of the Interior had to announce [uk] that it was going to use its two Facebook accounts until its official website was restored. By mid-day of February 1, Ex.ua had to appeal [ru] to users to stop the attack that succeeded in disrupting the work of nearly all major governmental websites:

Dear users,

Administrators of Ex.ua call on you to stop all illegal activity against governmental websites. […]

At the same time, a heated discussion of Ex.ua’s supposed illegal activity was taking place online.

Facebook user Sergei Sidorenko wrote [ru]:

In response to the mass mourning of the Ex.ua’s untimely death, I would tell you something different from what half of the Internet has been yelling about:

I do not have a single piece of licensed non-free software on my computer
I watch only pirated films
I jailbroke my Apple iPod soon after the purchase
Even the licensed Windows installed on my laptop I soon [removed] and installed a pirated one, because it was more convenient for me

But I have to admit that shutting down Ex.ua was the RIGHT THING. And I don’t understand those who now yell, “Yes, they were pirates, but was that a reason to close them?” […]

Guys, if we want to live a civilized [life], let’s at least not condemn the obvious attempts to establish legality.

In defense of Ex.ua, Yaroslav Fedorak of Blogosphere.com.ua wrote [uk]:

Yes, I really do believe that according to today’s legal framework, file-sharing website Ex.ua was conducting an illegal activity and sooner or later would have been closed. But don’t be too quick to throw stones at me! The problem here lies in the legal framework itself, which is hopelessly outdated and no longer meets the needs of the current super-dynamic and hyper-volatile environment.

Amidst such discussions, it was not long before Ukrainian Internet users began to question whether the authorities themselves were following the letter of the law. Giving in to increased media attention, the Ministry of the Interior had to admit [uk] that it was also using pirated software, while holding negotiations with Microsoft to end this practice. Netizens were outraged.

Yurko Chervony (@skinik) tweeted [uk]:

They should first shut themselves down, and not #ex.ua “[The Ministry of the Interior] admitted that half of the software [they're using] is illegal” tinyurl.com/7tjq7c8

Many netizens shared an online comment [uk] by Oleksandr Severyn of Maidan.org.ua:

When marauders fight with pirates, pirates become national heroes

Other netizens, however, believed that the government's action against Ex.ua was motivated not so much by the copyright violations, but by the website hosting [ru] an extremely popular parody video [uk] mocking the Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.

Pavlo Rizanenko (@rizanenko) tweeted [uk]:

Our authorities closed #exua because they did not want to have an uncontrollable information resource on #UaNet [Ukrainian Internet – GV]. Piracy was just an excuse rizanenko.livejournal.com/983.html

Whatever the actual causes of its shutdown, following the unexpected mass reaction of Ukrainian netizens, Ex.ua was back online [ru] as early as February 3, when the investigators concluded [ru] that piracy allegations did not have to result in blocking of the site's domain name.

Many netisens viewed it as a positive case of online consolidation and organization of Ukrainians.

Serge Lavrinchuck (@Lavrinchuck) tweeted [uk]:

The #EXua story, of course, has its positive sides. When else the Ukrainian people would have united like this to attack government websites?

Numerous observers referred to the attacks as the “online revolution” [ru]. Maksym Savanevsky, editor of the Internet business and SMM website Watcher.com.ua, wrote [uk]:

What has changed in the society in the past 60 hours.

Most important: the citizens have had a taste of their victory. They have felt that “together they are many, and they cannot be defeated”. It is difficult to recall similar events since 2004 [Orange Revolution – GV].

Yes, the scope was not the same. Yes, everything happened online, inside warm apartments. But it has been a while since the authorities looked so helpless in the face of the people’s simple desire to get something they thought they deserved.

Still, others were critical of the society mobilizing in defense of a pirate website. Jouranlist Serhiy Shcherbyna wrote [ru]:

Where are you, the renowned [citizens], when honest, normal businesses are being bluntly taken from ordinary mid-level entrepreneurs? […] Why nobody touches the Tax Inspection's website for their regular [pressure] on business?

Why would you not [disable] the Interior Ministry's website when people are being killed at [local police stations]? Why would you not [disable] the Kyiv City Administration's website for [icy] roads on which people are breaking arms and legs every day?

Why are Ukrainians able to protest only when their social benefits and [free stuff] are taken away? Freedom of speech, the lawlessness of the authorities, politically-motivated [imprisonments], a half-dead economy and, most of all, a country that is nearing a collapse, all this is not causing such an outrage.

While the online polemics continue and the future fate of Ex.ua remains unclear, as of February 6, the website is operational and works on restoring its full capacity.

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