In Hollywood’s unrelenting fight against online piracy, Megaupload creator Kim Dotcom has emerged as an unlikely hero whose story has now become, well, pretty damn Hollywood. Footage of the stunning raid on the piracy kingpin has now been released by 3NEWS. The new video gives a first hand look at the kind of force used during the raid to take down the founder of the popular file-sharing service, which included two helicopters, police dogs and multiple special forces units — who, by their own admission, decided “not to wear full tactical kit” because they “wanted to match the threat level, in this case a low threat with our dress.” The same elite officer admitted the use of “deliberate force.”
“I had a punch to the face, I had boots kicking me down to the floor, I had a knee into the ribs, then my hands were on the floor, one man was standing on my hand,” says Dotcom, who was sleeping in his bed, alone in the house with his pregnant wife, children and some house staff, when police arrived.
“First of all it wasn’t unusual for me to hear helicopter noise because we were expecting guests to arrive,” says Dotcom, who lives in the most expensive house in all of New Zealand — which he was barred from purchasing for failing the government’s “good character” test.
The January raid has helped transform Dotcom — who prior to the search and seizure, was known more for his gaudy extravagance, criminal past (which includes stealing credit card numbers, insider trading and embezzlement) and being the number one Call of Duty player in the world — into somewhat of an online sensation and a champion of internet freedom against big business and big government. “The prosecution of him could make him bigger than ever,. "He could become, if he loses, a martyr, and if he wins he could start another company. This prosecution is helping him become a celebrity.” Enjoying his newfound fame, Dotcom recently released a music video in which he compares himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Che Guevera:
Sort of catchy.
That the U.S. government would go after DotCom and MegaUpload wasn’t totally unexpected. By then the site had become one of the most popular on the web, sporting 50 million daily users and accounting for 4% of all Internet traffic. And the whole piracy thing was pretty much an open secret.
DotCom likewise did himself no favors, drawing attention with his lavish lifestyle, which included a $24 million Auckland mansion, a Rolls Royce with the license plate “GOD” (plus 14 Benzes) and lots of partying on boats with Playboy Bunnies. His MegaUpload brand was also gaining cultural steam. A month before the raid, he uploaded Megaupload Song to YouTube, a promotional music video which featured the likes of Kanye West, will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Alicia Keys and Chris Brown praising the service. Swiss Beatz was in talks to become the CEO and face of the company.
He’s not very shy.
What is surprising however, is how quickly and viciously the U.S. Justice Department struck, all in the name of copyright protection. The DoJ launched an all out attack on Dotcom the morning of January 19, taking the large-framed but seemingly innocuous man into custody and simultaneously seizing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets including the MegaUpload servers, which housed some 150 terabytes worth of data. But after a series of public blunders, the plot is starting to unravel.
Soon after, a New Zealand High Court judge deemed the ostentatious raid illegal and the FBI was ordered to turn over captured data to the defense. This was “so high profile, anything like this looks extremely bad,” said Ursula Cheer, a professor at Caterbury University. The integrity of the Department of Justice of staff has also been called into question after Neil MacBride, who was leading the case, was found to be a former anti-piracy VP for the copyright industries. Even the judge due to preside over DotCom’s extradition hearing found it difficult to remain impartial, slyly referring to the U.S. as “the enemy.”
Such flubs have only fueled the confidence of the would-be internet freedom fighter, who has reportedly retained Robert Bennett, Bill Clinton’s high powered Washington attorney, for his defense in the upcoming trial. Last month, Dotcom brazenly predicted victory, calling Hollywood “very powerful” but also “very stupid,” in a letter published by the Hollywood Reporter, promising not only the imminent revival of MegUpload but also the launch of a new music service called MegaBox. “Some of the world’s top artists have lined up to launch with us," DotCom told TorrentFreak. “I am totally excited about changing the music industry forever and giving the power to the artists.”
The framing of Dotcom as the forlorn victim of a cruel and unjust system continues to win him supporters and allies around the world including Apple founder and uber nerd Steve Wozniak. “When crimes occur through the mail, you don’t shut the post office down,” Wozniak told CNet after he appeared in a photo with Dotcom. “When governments dream up charges of ‘racketeering’ for a typical IT guy who is just operating a file-sharing service, or accuse him of mail fraud because he said he had removed files [to alleged infringing content] when he’d just removed the links to them, this is evidence of how poorly thought out the attempt to extradite him is.”
“It’s just kind of ridiculous what they did to his life,” DotCom’s new buddy Wozniak told the AP. “An awful lot of Kiwis support him. The U.S. government is on thin ground.”
Whether or not Dotcom ultimately wins what looks to be a messy, drawn-out legal battle, the bigger question is what the DOJ and Hollywood hope to achieve by taking down Dotcom and MegaUpload in their battle against copyright infringement. After all, the service is merely one of countless avenues of piracy available — with alternatives like RapidShare, HotFile and even DropBox to name only a few. It’s a futile endeavor, New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton explained last week.
“In the arcade version of Whac-A-Mole, the game eventually ends — often when the player loses,” Bilton wrote. “In the piracy arms-race version, there doesn’t seem to be a conclusion. Sooner or later, the people who still believe they can hit the moles with their slow mallets might realize that their time would be better spent playing an entirely different game.”
Or as Woz aptly puts it in his email to CNet: “When you can’t stop something like a steamroller, get out of the way.”
Reach Alec at @sfnuop