One of the secret gems of SXSW was the interview of the infamous Kim Dotcom by Charles Graeber of Wired magazine. Graeber is writing a book about the Megaupload prosecution, so knows the case well. Kim Dotcom is currently under house arrest in New Zealand, fighting extradition to the US for copyright infringement, so he couldn’t be there in person. Instead, he attended the interview via Skype. Always a man of mischief, Kim Dotcom had arranged the lighting for his Skype webcam so all you could see of him was his giant disembodied head, which made him look like a jovial big brother staring out of mysterious darkness.
If you don’t know the story, Megaupload was a massive file sharing service. It was once responsible for 4 per cent of all Internet traffic. Just as the 220-employee company was being valued at somewhere between $2.6 and $4.8 billion, and getting ready to offer shares, New Zealand secret service helicopters swooped on the company’s compound near Aukland, at the behest of the US government, and seized everything – including Dotcom’s collection of exotic cars. In a 72-page indictment, Dotcom was charged with extensive copyright infringement, and faces 55 years in a US prison. It’s the largest, most serious case of its type in history.
At face value, this seems like a ludicrously excessive prosecution for Intellectual Property crime, and Dotcom argues very convincingly that the Megaupload case was a present to Hollywood for its assistance in the re-election of Barack Obama, a plan B after SOPA crashed and burned. When you look into Dotcom’s past you can see a history of cybercrime, which muddies the argument somewhat. But there’s no doubt this case will have significant repercussions about who is responsible for copyright infringement, and what they could be liable for as a result. If Dotcom keeps his promise to sue the New Zealand secret service, the US government, and pretty much every US politician and Hollywood executive involved in his prosecution, it’s going to make the content establishment think twice about employing such heavy-handed tactics again.