The Cult of Kim Dotcom
"People's immediate reaction was that this was some mysterious international criminal who had been found and captured," said New Zealand journalist Tom Pullar-Strecker. "Over the following weeks and months, a realization emerged that the U.S. indictment contained really very scant evidence of any kind of criminal wrongdoing."
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom has been in the news on and off -- mostly on -- since his January arrest in New Zealand. He is fighting extradition to the U.S., where he is wanted on charges ranging from copyright infringement to money laundering. The German-born Dotcom has led a life filled with twists and turns, commercial success and criminal convictions.
Since his arrest, a number of events have created a movie-plot narrative:
- The judge overseeing the case quit after saying the United States was the enemy;
- Dotcom was dubbed a "cult hero" among New Zealanders;
- New Zealand authorities apologized to Dotcom for how the raid on his home was carried out; and
- his extradition hearing was postponed, a move Dotcom insists was designed to make him go bankrupt.
The most recent drama began when Dotcom announced that he will launch a new file-sharing site in 2013 -- it has already been blocked by Gabon, which didn't appreciate Dotcom's use of its ".ga" top-level domain -- and that he wants to build a cable running from New Zealand to the U.S. -- paid for, in part, by suing the U.S. government.
His flamboyant ways have earned him some sympathy among his adopted countrymen.
Listen to a conversation with Wellington, New Zealand-based journalist Tom Pullar-Strecker, who has written about Dotcom's exploits. Pullar-Strecker talks about how this story is perceived in New Zealand, why the copyright issue is a sensitive one, whether the extradition request is likely to be granted, and more.
Download the podcast (15:26 minutes) or use the player:
Here are some excerpts:
TechNewsWorld: It seems like the twists and turns to this never end. Have you seen anything like this? Is there any precedent for this, especially in New Zealand?
Tom Pullar-Strecker: Well, I guess not of this nature. It's certainly been a very interesting year with Kim Dotcom. And one thing I should probably point out is that nobody really in New Zealand had heard of him before the raid in January. So, he kind of exploded onto the local scene with nobody really knowing his background or what he was doing.
TNW: If you were going to pin down the mood or the opinion -- I'm sure there's a lot of variation -- but what would you say is the overarching attitude right now toward Dotcom among New Zealanders?
Pullar-Strecker: Well, there are varied opinions, as you'd expect. I think there's probably a near universal view that the criminal charges against him are unlikely to stack up and that he's unlikely to be extradited from New Zealand. There is certainly some concern around the raid and the activity of the New Zealand intelligence agencies in providing surveillance on Kim Dotcom -- as it turns out, illegally.
The raid also happened at probably a sensitive time in New Zealand when there was a lot of controversy around new copyright legislation. We call it the "Skynet Law" here after the Terminator movies because of a reference that an MP made to Skynet that attracted some ridicule. But most people would know it around the world I guess as a kind of "three strikes" legislation. So there was already a lot of sensitivity around that when the Dotcom raids happened.
I think people's immediate reaction was that this was some mysterious international criminal who had been found and captured, but over the following weeks and months I think a realization emerged that, I guess in particular with the U.S. indictment ... contained really very scant evidence of any kind of criminal wrongdoing. There is probably this perception that the case against Kim Dotcom would best be handled in the civil courts rather than as a criminal matter.
Of course he's gained some cult status since, I think just feeding off that general feeling of concern around copyright law but also the activities, the claims he's made recently ... have kind of contributed to that cult status, certainly. Not everybody would feel that, though, as there are people certainly aware of his previous convictions in Europe who are less sympathetic.
TNW: Dotcom recently announced that he is going to put up another site that would seem to operate similarly to Megaupload but with a few twists, one being that it would be cloud-based instead of operated from servers. What do you make of the new site, and do you see the changes being enough to circumvent the legal challenges that were posed to Megaupload itself?
Pullar-Strecker: I think it's hard to say. Certainly his desire is to have no infrastructure or intellectual property within U.S. borders, and he's hoping that that might make a future site safer from legal action. I think, though, that one thing worth bearing in mind is whether or not the extradition case against him succeeds, it looks very doubtful that he will get a significant amount of his fortune back. Legal experts here have voiced the opinion that there's a different level of burden of proof that would need to be obtained in order to return any of those assets.
Also, I think one would have to expect that he'll be tied up in civil litigation for many years to come. That may go both ways -- he may try to sue Hollywood interests, as he's threatened to do, and they no doubt will be taking action against him.
In that situation his primary asset would be his fame, really, and the ability that that gives him to get involved in new Internet start-ups and that certainly, that fame and publicity, could have some value. Whether it's enough to really establish a credible new site I think remains to be seen.