The shutting down and indictment of owners and operators of the video locker service Megaupload, hot on the heels of unprecedented online blackouts against the proposed anti-piracy bills concluded hours before, has come as a shocker to the Internet community.

Albeit being a legal one-click hosting online service which facilitates content storage, Megaupload has been charged with operating a criminal enterprise that distributes pirated material, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday.

Members of the Mega Conspiracy are aware of the way that their sites are actually used by others; have themselves used the systems to upload, as well as reproduce and distribute, infringing copies of copyrighted content; and are aware that they have financially benefited directly from the infringement of copyrighted works that they are in a position to control, the indictment said.

Seven executives, including the founder Kim Schmitz aka Kim Dotcom, of the Hong Kong-based site were indicted on charges including criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit money laundering.  The company CEO and record producer Swizz Beatz, married to R&B superstar Alicia Keys, was not implicated in the indictment.

The timing of the arrest has been perceived by many as a knee-jerk reaction from the federal authorities to the mass protests on Jan. 18 against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

This theory, however, is contested by the fact that the federal investigation against the site began two years ago and that the indictment was handed by a grand jury in Virginia on Jan. 5, several days before the protests against SOPA were announced.

Given how slowly the wheels of justice move I would be surprised if this was a knee-jerk reaction to the SOPA issue, an online forum user wrote responding to the speculation.

While this may sound logical, there is no escaping the fact that the authorities didn't postpone the closure or the arrests until the dust settled, or even for 24 hours since the protests concluded. The audacity of the arrests immediately following the mass blackouts and mass signature campaigns against the draconian Internet legislations has been perceived by many as a signal of the entertainment industry influence over the U.S. government.  

A portion of the Internet community also speculates that the authorities are flexing their muscles showing the SOPA protestors what they are capable of even without SOPA, by targeting a hugely popular site, in a case involving international cooperation between the U.S., Hong Kong, the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, Canada and the Philippines. In addition to the arrests, 20 search warrants were executed today in multiple countries.