I don't really have a distinct angle on this story, I just find it fascinating. It has ties to white collar crime, the internet, New Zealand, copyright, the Department of Justice and FBI, the film and music industries, Hong Kong, Kim Kardashian, Bob Bennett, Kanye West, and on and on... but that's what makes it so good. What also makes it compelling is the darkness of it, a perfect study in what it's like when the Feds decide you are worth pursuing and put their weight behind getting you.
On January 20th at around 6:30 in the morning, a raid was conducted at a rural mansion near Auckland, New Zealand. 76 law officers and two black helicopters descended upon the residence where a certain Kim Dotcom resided. Mr. Dotcom retreated into the residence, triggering a set of electronic locks and everntually locking himself in a "safe room" until authorities were able to disarm the devices. He reportedly was found within arms reach of a sawed-off shotgun. Mr. Dotcom is filthy rich because he was the founder of a website called MegaUpload, a file-sharing site that enables people to transfer large files to one another over the internet (files that are too large to be email attachments). Sometimes it's music, pictures, movies, porn, whatever you need. The problem is, while lots of that stuff is legit, a lot of it is also copyrighted, counterfeited, or pirated. So the motion picture and recording industry folks are losing a lot of money to the people who use MegaUpload. Of course, the people who were transferred all that data on the site are all over the world and may or may not have any resources... ol' Dotcom has loooooots of money, and that makes you popular. Popular as in, I'd have given you a link to MegaUpload, but it's GONE. Well that's not entirely true, here just see for yourself...MegaUpload.
So how does this all tie together? Well, the cops in the raid were local Kiwi cops, but the request had come from the US Department of Justice and FBI. Seems some of the servers MegaUpload LEASED were in Virginia, and that's all she wrote. Lesson to self: don't be someone the Feds want. And let's not forget this is a white collar case, this copyright infringement with helipcopters. They nabbed him, his art and 25 or so cars (including a $400k Rolls Royce), cut up his panic room, all his New Zealand bank holdings, nine other properties in New Zealand including a total of around 32 million pounds, and then seized another $42 million of suspected criminal assets in Hong Kong, where the entity is based. Then they announced that all the user data on MegaUpload's servers may summarily be deleted now that they got all the information they need. There's a few million happy customers for you. (Update: the delete date has been held off for two weeks as of this writing). Dotcom, or Schmitz as his name used to be, is in custody awaiting extradition to the US as you read this.
That's all juicy but to me the most interesting part is representing the guy. We defense lawyers get a kick out of representing someone who is publicly reviled or unlikeable, especially when the media takes the ball and runs with it, skewing the public opinion right out of the gate. This is the sexiest little white collar case in recent history, and he was at least smart enough to hire Bob Bennett, the lawyer who helped President Bill Clinton through the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Our hero is best described as a large, lumpy nerd, about six foot six, near 300 lb. range, often referred to as an "internet pirate" or "Dr.Evil." Don't get me wrong, he's filthy rich but he's also a convicted criminal for credit card fraud and other crimes in Germany, and is flamboyant (his cars, including a '59 convertible pink Cadillac, several high end Mercedes, Maseratis, the Rolls, etc. had license plates reading HACKER, GUILTY, STONED, POLICE, and GOD). He did manage to pass New Zealand's strict residency fitness requirements, with a little help from a $5 million charitable donation, but was ultimately determined unfit to actually purchase property in the nation, which forced him to rent the $18 million mansion.
There are other interesting twists in the case too. As it turns out, there are some people in New Zealand that found the whole raid a bit "disquieting" as reported in a New Zealand Editorial column. Oh, those Kiwis, so understated! I tihnk they were likely referring to more than just the noise from the black helicopters at dawn. And as it turns out, Mr. Dotcom once put out a $10 million reward for Osama Bin Laden (one can only wonder how the Feds would have proceeded if he had gotten Bin Laden first- fortunately, with OBL out of the way it wasn't an issue)- so it's not entirely surprising that he would fled into a saferoom when black copters descended on his residence at dawn, or that he had a sawed off shotgun in there too, although as it turns out it was still in a gun safe, with the key in the lock. And it's not the entire world against Dotcom either- in fact there were plenty of authorized uses for the service (pssst...Austin) like enabling musicians or bands to store or transfer music files amongst themselves or submit to labels, producers, or venues. The website even enjoyed the endorsement (and likenesses) of Alicia Keyes and Kanye West, and Kim Kardashian.
So now we have celebrities, ridiculous cash, and a corporate supported prosecution in a society accustomed to file sharing. You know, I'll tell you a secret. I bought a used CD at Cheapo last week, it was Jeff Buckley. Then I loaded it into my Itunes before giving it away to a friend who had never heard it. Now that's pure evil, but I been doing this a long time, even back in the days of cassette tapes. But what if I instead wanted to give it to my cousin Adrian in Colorado, via the internet? Some would call that evil AND criminal! It's maybe no coincidence that Wikipedia and other sites recently protested the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation by shutting down their sites- the hacker group Anonymous responded to the Megaupload prosecution by jamming up the Dept. of Justice website as well as that of the Recording Industry Association of America. Just you wait, they'll make a great movie about this whole deal!... until then, stay out of Big Brother's gaze and keep an eye on those helicopters.