Month: December 2013

Kim Dotcom Criminal Copyright

Feds Release Details on Megaupload’s Kim Dotcom Criminal Copyright Case

A Deluge of Emails Shows Intent to Violate Criminal Copyright Law

In a test of the reach of American copyright law, the U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. DOJ) has released a 200 page summary of its criminal case against Kim Dotcom. The Feds claim that its documents prove Dotcom’s intent to violate criminal copyright law with his shuttered website, Megaupload. They also claim his criminal enterprise caused the American entertainment industry $500 million in lost profits. Now it’s up to New Zealand officias to decide whether the U.S. can extradite Dotcom to face these charges.

Who is Kim Dotcom?

Kim Dotcom Criminal Copyright
Dotcom showing off his wise investment strategy.

The eponymous Dotcom, born Kim Schmitz, was a notorious hacker in his native Germany. Police eventually arrested him in 1994 for trafficking in stolen phone cards, but he evaded serious punishment for what a judge called “youthful foolishness” (despite being 20 at the time of his arrest). He eventually moved on to Thailand to dodge charges of insider trading in the early 2000’s. Thailand authorities arrested him anyways and deported him back to Germany. Dotcom again managed to avoid a prison term and left for Hong Kong in 2003.

It was around this time that Dotcom set up Megaupload (among some more questionable investment activity). He generously called his file hosting and sharing website a “provider of cloud storage services” or cyberlocker. More dubious commentators would call it a internet piracy mecca. At one point, Megaupload was the 13th most popular site on the internet and claimed 4% of the world’s traffic.

The Feds’ Case for Criminal Copyright

In 2012, the U.S. DOJ indicted Dotcom in U.S. federal court on criminal charges ranging from Conspiracy to Commit Copyright Infringement to Racketeering. By that time Dotcom had become a resident of New Zealand. Briefly imprisoned there, Dotcom is now out on bail and hiding away in his New Zealand mansion.

Emails and Skype messages released by the U.S. DOJ appear to show Dotcom had less than honest intentions for Megaupload.

“I have a feeling that Kim tolerates a certain amount of copyright violation.”

But digging deeper into the U.S. DOJ’s summary, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of direct admission by Dotcom of an intent to violate criminal copyright law. Rather, there is a lot of innuendo and circumstantial evidence. Dotcom forwarded emails to other corporate officers about piracy and Megaupload, complained of lost revenue when employees complied with DMCA requests, and was included in emails by other Megauplaod officials who made more direct admissions.

The U.S. DOJ’s other problem with this international caper, though, is Dotcom’s residence in New Zealand. They’ll have to wait until at least 2014 for judicial authorities there to decide whether the U.S. can extradite Dotcom.

Dotcom’s Defense to Criminal Copyright Charges

Dotcom appeared to have relied upon a distorted understanding of U.S. copyright law to justify his actions. Dotcom, in the U.S. DOJ’s release, repeatedly referred to DMCA takedown requests. This part of copyright law requires copyright holders to inform ISP’s of copyright infringing material before the ISP needs to remove that material. Of course, the infringing content providor must have had a good faith belief their actions were legal in the first place. Or that they were at least ignorant of its legality.

An extension of this defense theory is that Megaupload is simply a “cloud” storage platform. Prosecutors cannot hold Dotcom responsible if people use the site for online piracy. Not suprisingly, a host of witnesses, including the MPAA, RIAA, and BSA, are ready to go to court to dispute Dotcom’s story of benevolent intentions.

This story warrants further attention to see how far the reach of U.S. copyright law can extend.

Ari Good, JD LLM, a tax, aviation and entertainment lawyer, is the shareholder of Good Attorneys at Law, P.A. He graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and obtained his L.L.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.

Contact us toll free at (877) 771-1131 or by email to info@goodattorneysatlaw.com

Image by sam_churchill

State Income Tax Simplification Act

The U.S. Senate to Considers Law to Normalize State Income Tax Rules.

This weekend I ran across some interesting legislation the U.S. Senate is taking a look at: the “Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act.” We’ll call it MWSITSA just to make it more confusing. Although the wordy name suggest otherwise, the law’s aim is to simplify paying multiple state income taxes. This new rule could make life easier for people who don’t spend all 365 days in Florida (or any state!).

What’s the Problem?

Comparing state income tax schemes
This seems like a decent analogy

It comes as no surprise to those paying taxes in multiple states, but there’s a serious problem with the current state income tax system. Each state has their own particular rules when deciding whether you owe it income taxes and how much. Some states require a payment if you worked there for even a single day! The more generous states at least require a multiple week stay before you trigger a demand to contribute to their treasury.

This doesn’t factor in the problem of calculating how much you owe. Some states fairly look at the time you’ve been there when creating a number. Others have a floor for their tax ransom (a few hundred dollars to over a thousand) that doesn’t take into account the actual time you’ve spent in the state.

This isn’t just a problem for employees who cross state lines. It can be a administrative nightmare for employers. Business owners must account for their employees’ activities when withholding money on paychecks. Imagine the fun when they have to figure this out for a myriad of states. The self-employed in this situation also just better have a qualified CPA on speed dial.

The Guts of a Solution

The MWSITSA seeks to bring order to the chaotic state income tax landscape. But it’s a modest solution.

Federal law would normalize the time trigger for payment to state income tax at 30 days. At that time, the state’s normal rules for how much to pay kicks in. This does away with “gotcha” state rules. Those states that demand a tax payment for even 1 day of work in their state. It, however, doesn’t fix the problem of tax floors. That working in state, regardless of how much time is spent there, requires some minimum payment. The law also doesn’t touch the variations in complex state tax schemes. Namely, the hoops one must jump through when coming to a tax figure.

The law does let people deduct income subject to tax in other states, from income subject to tax in their home state (not much help to those who have Florida as their home state). This sounds like a great idea, but it’s already how the tax system works.

Florida is my Home State!

MWSITSA would be a nice financial and resource boon for workers and businesses who call Florida their home state. No state income tax unless you’re in another state for 30 days!

The time spent in complying with various state income tax rules is not a light burden. Hours can be spent on figuring out the taxes due in just one state. Multiply that by the 41 states that have different tax schemes and multiple workers, and the problem is apparent. Is the drain on business resources really worth the revenue states generate? At what point does the cost of the implementing various state income taxes outweigh the benefit? It’s likely that many workers and businesses simply ignore paying state income tax, whether through ignorance or avoidance.

It seems to this writer that MWSITSA is a good start to remedying these issues. To fully address the problem, however, the formula for calculating state income tax must be uniform throughout the nation in all aspects. If you pay $1,000 in one state for their income tax for a certain number of days worked, you should pay that same amount in the neighboring state, all things being equal.

For a more detailed look at these issues, the Council on State Income Taxation has an informative website here.

Ari Good, JD LLM, a tax, aviation and entertainment lawyer, is the shareholder of Good Attorneys at Law, P.A. He graduated from the DePaul University College of Law in 1997 and obtained his L.L.M. in Taxation from the University of Florida.

Contact us toll free at (877) 771-1131 or by email to info@goodattorneysatlaw.com

Image by TheBusyBrain

An Art Basel Update

IMG_2005An Art Basel Update – Simply Exceptional

So, Art Basel is in full swing here in Miami and Miami Beach and I have to say, it does not disappoint. I had the privilege of visiting the main Midtown exhibits:  art-miami, Context, the Miami Project and Spectrum yesterday and today.  It’s easy to see what the competition must have been like for the exhibiting galleries as the quality of the pieces is museum grade.  One of my favorite unifying themes was how contemporary artists have incorporated video into their work.  Video shots of people or animals merge with the physical media of the piece, allowing the artist to use motion and perspective in incredible ways.  The use of different perspectives, making the small larger the large small, depending on how it’s viewed, takes on a totally new dimension when you incorporate, for example, a video loop of a woman swimming in a “pool” the size of the painting, or a virtual hummingbird perched on a tangible nest under glass.

[youtube height=”HEIGHT” width=”WIDTH”] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb9aBgKTa0o&feature=youtu.be [/youtube]

 

These virtual beings even interact with each other, acting out responses to moving pieces on the wall.  It simply brought a smile to my face.  In my very amateurish opinion art-miami and its next door neighbor, Context, are the cream of the crop.  The structures are exceptional:  beautifully lit, spacious environments that allow plenty of room to move around, speak to the gallery owners and representatives, and simply get up close and personal with the work.  There are many places to eat, cocktail and mingle interspersed among the different exhibits in addition to the Midtown restaurants and bars turned sidewalk cafés, and the people are as much a part of the landscape as the art itself.  More than anything else I feel blessed to be in this environment and to be able to experience the best of other people’s ideas and hard work on such a grand and colorful scale.  This weekend:  the Miami Beach convention center and the world that surrounds it.