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“The fact is that the vast majority of Mega’s Internet traffic is legitimate, and we are here to stay. If the content industry would like to take advantage of our popularity, we are happy to enter into a dialogue. We have some good ideas. Please get in touch,” the statement said.

Several sister sites were also shut down, including one dedicated to sharing pornography files.

News of the shutdown seemed to bring retaliation from hackers who claimed credit for attacking the Justice Department’s website. Federal officials confirmed it was down for hours Thursday evening and that the disruption was being “treated as a malicious act.”

A loose affiliation of hackers known as “Anonymous” claimed credit for the attack. Also hacked was the site for the Motion Picture Association of America, which has campaigned for a crackdown on piracy.

According to the indictment, Megaupload was estimated at one point to be the 13th most frequently visited website on the Internet. Current estimates by companies that monitor Web traffic place it in the top 100.

Megaupload is considered a “cyberlocker,” in which users can upload and transfer files that are too large to send by email. Such sites can have perfectly legitimate uses. But the Motion Picture Association of America estimated that the vast majority of content being shared on Megaupload was in violation of copyright laws.

The website allowed users to download some content for free, but made money by charging subscriptions to people who wanted access to faster download speeds or extra content. The website also sold advertising.

Megaupload was unique not only because of its massive size and the volume of downloaded content, but also because it had high-profile support from celebrities, musicians and other content producers who are most often the victims of copyright infringement and piracy. Before the website was taken down, it contained endorsements from Kim Kardashian, Alicia Keys and Kanye West, among others.

The company listed Swizz Beatz, a musician who married Keys in 2010, as its CEO. He was not named in the indictment and declined to comment through a representative.

The five-count indictment, which alleges copyright infringement as well as conspiracy to commit money laundering and racketeering, described a site designed specifically to reward users who uploaded pirated content for sharing, and turned a blind eye to requests from copyright holders to remove copyright-protected files.

For instance, users received cash bonuses if they uploaded content popular enough to generate massive numbers of downloads, according to the indictment. Such content was almost always copyright protected, the indictment said.

The Justice Department said it was illegal for anyone to download pirated content, but their investigation focused on the leaders of the company, not end users who may have downloaded a few movies for personal viewing.

A lawyer who represented the company in a lawsuit last year declined to comment Thursday. Efforts to reach an attorney representing Dotcom were unsuccessful.

Although Megaupload is based in Hong Kong, the size of its operation in the southern Chinese city was unclear. The administrative contact listed in its domain registration, Bonnie Lam, did not respond immediately for a request for comment sent to a fax number and email address listed.

The indictment was returned in the Eastern District of Virginia, which claimed jurisdiction in part because some of the alleged pirated materials were hosted on leased servers in Ashburn, Virginia. Prosecutors there have pursued multiple piracy investigations.

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