Box’s Aaron “DotNet” Levie On Kim Dotcom, Megaupload, And The New “Cloud Celebrity”

It’s what’s inside that counts, says Levie, particularly when you run a service that houses the files of thousands of web users. And he describes a few of the core differences between a service like Megaupload and his

Box’s Aaron “DotNet” Levie On Kim Dotcom, Megaupload, And The New “Cloud Celebrity”


Aaron Levie doesn’t bear a striking resemblance to Kim Dotcom. Sure, the two run cloud-storage companies: Levie, enterprise service, and Dotcom, Megaupload, the file-sharing site Federal prosecutors shut down earlier this month on charges related to accusations of piracy. And sure, the pair own German automobiles with vanity plates: Levie, a plate inscribed “GoCloud,” while Dotcom, one that reads “Guilty.” And sure, when asked whether Box’s offices had been raided yet by the feds, Levie said he’s currently hiding in his “automatically locked safe-house, on the fourth story of an apartment building that you could probably break into with a screwdriver.”

But Levie and Dotcom couldn’t be more different–and not just in appearance (at an estimated 330 pounds, Dotcom likely weighs at least a couple Levie’s). The two run very different companies, with very different business models. Yet the fallout from Megaupload has put Box–and a slew of other sharing services from YouTube to Apple’s iCloud–in the same, well, box. “There’s a lot of lumping of services that’s going into this conversation,” Levie says. “It’s challenging, because this is a case where the technology and the companies are actually polar opposites. While they can all host content, obviously the way they are monetized and used is vastly different.”

Editor’s Note

Read more about the initial shutdown of Megaupload by the feds here. Read more about the guns, Benzes, and street-racing lifestyle of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom here. And read why the attorney for Rapidshare thinks the feds should go after Apple and YouTube if they come after his employer.

As Levie quips, comparing Box to Megaupload is like “comparing Apples to BlackBerries.” He jokes that to avoid any confusion, he might change his name to “Aaron DotNet.” To hear Levie tell it, Box is primarily used for enterprise collaboration, whereas Megaupload is more of a “publishing service” designed to share links on the web. “We’re all about sharing, but our sharing is within internal networks or between companies,” Levie says. “In Megaupload’s case, it’s far more about publishing content, whereas in our case, it’s actually far more about keeping content private.”

Still, that hasn’t stopped Megaupload from drawing comparisons to arguably more legitimate services. An attorney for Megaupload has claimed the service is “just like YouTube.” Last week, RapidShare lawyer Daniel Raimer compared the file-sharing service, which has been accused by the RIAA of hosting “almost 200,000 infringements of music,” to Dropbox, Microsoft’s SkyDrive, and Apple’s iCloud. Others have suggested comparisons to services like Box and SoundCloud.


The point here for Megaupload and RapidShare is to provide an air of legitimacy around their services. Yes, users can upload and illegally share files on Megaupload and Rapidshare–but users could also do the same on YouTube and any other cloud service.

Levie feels this is a weak argument. “The technical capability of putting content onto the web is at this point, a low common denominator across all these services,” he says. “You can upload content to Wikipedia or to Blogger or onto Twitter or Facebook. Any platform essentially can host this kind of information.”

What separates these services from Megaupload is how they’re used, how they’re monetized, and how companies respond to piracy. Levie believes Megaupload crossed a line when it became a safe haven for copyrighted materials, and started capitalizing off that content–Megaupload is said to have offered financial incentives for users uploading pirated content. “The DMCA is pretty clear: You have to be removing this content as soon as you get a request in,” Levie says. “I think we saw this a little bit with Pirate Bay, when it just crossed a threshold where there was no arguable legal reason for its existence.”

And to demonstrate just how differently the services are used, Levie says companies in the entertainment industry are some of Box’s biggest clients–from record labels to movie studios, the very groups crying foul over Megaupload, which prosecutors say cost their industry roughly $500 million in lost revenue.

But as much as Megupload might’ve temporarily created a dark cloud over the cloud, Levie admits to being intrigued by the company’s founder, the flamboyant Kim Dotcom. Asked whether Dotcom has become a sort of notorious celebrity of the industry, Levie acknowledges Dotcom certainly led an interesting lifestyle.

“Well, I mean, I’m looking at a poster of him right now above my bed,” Levie laughs. “But yes, he’s certainly a celebrity in the cloud storage space now. That set of words has never been put together before.”


[Image: Flickr users Michael O’Donnell; Tom Roche]

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.