Megaupload's former hosting company Cogent has warned that several drives, which are preserved as evidence for civil and criminal lawsuits, have become unreadable. While the data might not be lost permanently, various stakeholders including the MPAA and RIAA are urging the court to help secure the data.

As we near the 5th anniversary of the Megaupload raid, data from hundreds of the site’s servers are gathering dust around the world.

This is also true for the files that were hosted by Cogent, one of the companies where Megaupload stored its servers.

While the original machines are no longer intact, the hosting company has backed up all data which it will keep in storage pending the various lawsuits against the company and its operators.

However, the lack of progress in the various legal proceedings isn’t doing the hard drives any good, something the RIAA and MPAA already hinted at earlier this year.

Not an unrealistic fear, as Cogent recently informed Megaupload and the rightsholders that half of the hard drives have now become unreadable.

“Recently, the parties have each been advised by Cogent that it has been unable to read eight of the sixteen computer hard drives on which the Megaupload cached data have been stored,” Megaupload informed (pdf) a Virginia federal court this week.

While this is a worrying message, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all data is lost. Cogent believes that the “drive heads” may be just be “frozen” but it has requested outside help to confirm this.

“Without the assistance of a computer forensic expert, however, Cogent cannot confirm that the data remains extant and uncorrupted,” Megaupload writes, adding that the hosting company doesn’t want to pay for the expenses itself.

On previous occasions the federal court postponed decisions over how to secure the evidence stored on hard drives, but all parties would now like to see some action.

In its request to the court, Megaupload argues that either the copyright holders or the Government should pick up the tab for preserving the data. The defunct file-hosting service can’t contribute itself, since its assets remain frozen.

Also, since the U.S. Government previously copied selected portions of the Cogent data as evidence, it now has an obligation to secure the rest as well, if only to avoid the suspicion of cherry-picking evidence.

“Having seized control of the Carpathia servers in order to obtain ‘selected’ portions of the data, the government has triggered its duty to preserve the remaining data because the entire data-set ‘might be significant’ to the defense of the Criminal Action,” Megaupload writes.

For their part the RIAA and MPAA also want to make sure that the data is preserved so have renewed their request (pdf) for a subpoena to obtain copies.

Alternatively, both rightsholder groups are open to bringing in an independent computer forensics vendor, to copy and preserve the data while the civil cases are on hold.