Bungling has turned Dotcom into 'hero'

SIMON CUNLIFFE
Last updated 11:38 30/09/2012

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OPINION: You couldn't make up this farce.

The character on centre stage has the improbable name of Kim Dotcom. Although customary use has conditioned us to it, it is even more improbable, not to say faintly ridiculous, when it is dignified with the honorific Mr, as it was by Prime Minister John Key issuing a somewhat grovelling apology to the internet tycoon on Thursday.

"Of course I apologise to Mr Dotcom."

Unfortunately, given an inquiry had just found the spying agency for which he alone is responsible had acted illegally, Key probably had little choice.

Ridiculous or not, the multi- millionaire Dotcom may soon be laughing his wobbly-jowled way to already overflowing bank vaults - at our collective expense, because there is talk of lawsuits against the police and the Government that could make him a pile more.

To make matters worse, this man, who has accumulated squillions by providing the conduit for mega-uploading and mega- downloading of copyrighted materials, is fast being elevated into a kind of cultish folk-hero.

We are in danger of turning Dotcom from a man accused of large-scale and criminal copyright infringements into a sort of Robin Hood of cyberspace. Notwithstanding his rights to be considered innocent of any crime until proven guilty, the public has, incrementally, begun to sympathise with a foreign businessman of questionable integrity - our immigration service seems to have brushed over past convictions in his native Germany - who set up shop here to carry out his copyright-related activities.

And we think this guy is cool? It is, of course, preposterous - farces often are - and perverse, but we've cast him in the role of underdog. He has begun to seem like a paragon of virtue, reason and competence, victimised by the malicious, heavy-handed and illegal actions of state agencies.

Politicians, the police, and our spy services have buzzed around him like flies over decaying cowpats. An overweight Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians, the implacable Dotcom has rapped and joked and acted the injured party while his persecutors have played right into his lawyers' hands.

John Banks' dissembling over his knowledge of Dotcom's mega- contribution to his mayoral election campaign, thought to be $50,000, could make even the most outlandish fibber seem like a straightshooter. People look at the squirming but simultaneously self- aggrandising Banks, hear his own protestations of "victimhood" over the affair, and find Dotcom a more reliable witness. No surprise there.

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Then there is the saga of police actions against him. The restraining order that saw Dotcom's cash, cars and property seized in January declared null and void after the police and Crown Law applied the wrong order. The search warrants served on Dotcom at the time also ruled illegal in the High Court. To make one such bungle is unfortunate, to make two is incompetent.

Last week, it was revealed the Government Communication Security Bureau illegally spied on Dotcom and his co-accused Bram van der Kolk, apparently having been told by police they were not New Zealand residents.

How good is he looking now? Positively angelic.

There is much to be written and said about this whole debacle, and some of that will undoubtedly delve into the extent the police, Crown Law and the GCSB cut corners to curry favour with United States authorities seeking Dotcom's extradition.

Any future investigation might also consider just how credible it is that a spy agency would take the word of police on the residency status of potential spying targets. Wouldn't that be the primary "do not start this investigation until . . ." threshold?

But it might also consider how and why Dotcom was ever granted residency in the first place.

In the age of rapidly expanding digital economies, copyright and sophisticated internet piracy, of which he is accused, should be among the highest of concerns for the authorities.

And if it could also investigate and publicise exactly how Dotcom's internet activities have secured him an enormous fortune, it would be doing us all a public service.

The large-scale copying and downloading of copyrighted materials such as songs, movies, books and TV programmes, from sites such as Megaupload, has its consequences for the owners of such material.

Regardless of the wrongs done to him - which are indeed inexcusable and have been rightly exposed - ripping off artists, if that is what Dotcom's empire is ultimately found to have been based upon, is a shabby and shallow basis for folk-hero status.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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