On Sunday evening, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a report that reviewed the trials and tribulations of Kim DotCom—the self-styled villainous creator of the website MegaUpload. Prior to its infamous shutdown in 2012, MegaUpload was the premiere website for the illegal sharing of copyrighted works such as movies, TV shows, and music.
The 60 Minutes piece focuses primarily on the perspective of DotCom, including his delusion that he has been unfairly targeted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). He repeatedly states that he should not be held responsible for the actions of his users; the website was designed for file sharing, and what his users chose to share is not his concern. In fact, DotCom expresses a desire for his work to be compared to that of movie heroes such as James Bond, only to have Bob Simon aptly point out that he is in fact much closer in persona to Dr. No — the flamboyant lifestyle, the private island, etc. It is this persona that DotCom alleges is responsible for the FBI targeting him, rather than the fact that he built a website designed to illegally exploit copyrighted works for his own profits. He even goes so far as to make the outlandish claim that he is “just a plain businessman” (a remark at which even Bob Simon scoffed).
He must think we are all a bunch of MegaIdiots to believe such a line. Prior to the creation of MegaUpload, DotCom was a hacker, claiming to have broken into computers at NASA and the Pentagon. In the 1990s, he was arrested for using computers to hack telephone lines and credit card numbers. Later, he pled guilty to insider trading, as well as being found guilty of embezzlement and other white collar crimes. In addition, not only was MegaUpload widely known to be a piracy haven for many years, the DOJ has released a mountain of evidence showing beyond all doubt that DotCom knew exactly what he was doing. The DOJ summary of evidence against MegaUpload lists 23 examples of instances (primarily from DotCom’s own personal emails) where it is obvious he is aware of the illegal behavior his site is promoting, as well as the fact that profit is his main concern:
On or about April 23, 2009, DotCom sent an e-mail message to VAN DER KOLK, ORTMANN, and BENCKO in which he complained about the deletion of URL links in response to infringement notices from the copyright holders. In the message, DotCom stated: “I told you many times not to delete links that are reported in batches of thousands from insignificant sources. I would say that those infringement reports from MEXICO of ‘14,000’ links would fall into that category. And the fact that we lost significant revenue because of it justifies my reaction.”
Furthermore, the business model of a piracy-based website like MegaUpload differs substantially from legitimate file sharing sites like DropBox. MegaUpload paid subscribers that uploaded infringing content because it drove traffic to the site, which in turn allowed them to earn increased ad revenue and premium download subscription fees from those users that downloaded pirated content. As a result, the DOJ indictment states the DotCom and his co-conspirators caused more than $500 million in economic harm to copyright owners. In contrast, DropBox does not pay its subscribers to upload content, earns no ad revenue, and sells no “premium download subscriptions.” Instead, it focuses on selling subscriptions to users who wish to upgrade from the initial 2GB of free storage they are allotted, and it limits the amount of traffic that each link can receive (thereby preventing abuse).
Despite all this, because of New Zealand’s extradition laws, it appears that for the time being, DotCom will remain in his adopted home country instead of returning to the United States to face the music. But the DOJ is still pursuing the case, which means that copyright owners still have reason to hope that this will turn out just like a Bond movie: a disastrous end for the villain.