Five heads of Korean webhard (online storage) sites were arrested yesterday (June 17) by the Seoul Central Prosecutors' Office for alleged copyright infringement.

The high-tech crimes investigation unit of the Prosecutors' Office took into custody five CEOs, including Moon Yong-shik of the company Nowcom which operates webhard portal sites and The two sites have a combined membership of 17 million users.

The four other operators are Medianetworks (which operates, Kutech (, iServe (, and Ezone ( These webhard sites' combined membership comes to another 6 million users.

The Prosecutors' Office estimates the combined gross profits of the companies to reach into the tens of millions of dollars.

They allege that these companies conspired to encourage 'heavy uploaders' who illegally upload movie files as a profession.

Previously, peer-to-peer (P2P) music file-sharing site Soribada (a local site comparable to Napster) was prosecuted for copyright infringement, but the prosecution of webhard operators, which offer storage space online, is a relatively new development.

Incidentally, controversy is rising as internet users allege political pressure was exercised in these arrests because of the fact that Nowcom also operates the self-broadcasting website The site has been attracting millions of viewers a day with live on-the-ground broadcasts of recent candlelight vigil protests against president Lee Myung-bak.

The Prosecutors' Office rebuts that its investigation and arrest procedures started before the rise of the protests. The Filmmakers' Association to Prevent Piracy, made up of 128 companies and organisations, had already pressed suit against Nowcom and seven other companies on March 31. The Prosecutors' Office started investigating and arresting uploaders in April and May.