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?
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.
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