Editorial: The pirate king?

19:12, May 28 2012

The demonisation of Kim Dotcom isn't going well, you may have noticed.

You wouldn't think it was such a hard task. He is, after all, a study of immodest excess. A rich, foreign, madly hedonistic walrus of a man, with form as a computer hacker and criminal convictions.

Not, on balance, a combination Kiwis typically find endearing.

The fact – and fact it is – that he is increasingly being seen as more sinned against than sinning says something about the extravagance of the tactics being marshalled against him.

According to prosecutors seeking his extradition to the United States, the founder of the Megaupload file-sharing site is a monstrous internet pirate, cutting the throats of Hollywood's creatives.

Whether this is right is a matter, as they say, for the courts. But getting there is proving a disconcerting business.


It's not that the wider community was all that quick to object when armed New Zealand police did a Ureweras on Dotcom's mansion. At the time, this seemed a case of abundant caution, given his assorted weirdnesses.

But the passage of time has strengthened the impression that Dotcom may not, after all, be a darker force than his international tormenters.

The 72-page FBI indictment is being reported as something other than a sober legal document – so emotive in places that it empowers those who would portray this as a politicised persecution of an easy target by misapplying existing, outdated and inadequate laws rather than confronting the much more politically complex and difficult task of improving legislation.

Consider the latest report. US law enforcement authorities are investigating images, the FBI unearthed on Megaupload servers, of child abuse.

Terrible? Yes.

Should someone pay? Absolutely.

Is Dotcom that someone? Hardly.

By Dotcom's own account his network has been running on 1.5 terabytes of bandwidth, which equates to about 800 file transfers every second. These are generally protected by privacy rules.

To portray him as accountable for everything therein is akin to the police saying that Mobil Oil has been selling petrol for bank robbers' getaway cars.

There's child porn woven throughout servers worldwide. It's a global problem that special task forces have been set up to address.

The defence, such as it is, that Megaupload applies against illegitimate users – most commonly copyright infringers – is to require them to agree in the terms and conditions not to upload anything that doesn't belong to them, and then to provide the copyright holders with "direct delete" access to remove material themselves.

However functionally adequate it may or may not be, the real question in the Dotcom trial needs to be whether Megaupload's approach is legal under existing laws. Whether those laws ought to be different is a bigger, better, and different question.

The man himself prefers rap to Gilbert and Sullivan, but increasingly he is emerging as a pirate less of the cut-throat variety than the Pirate King from Penzance, who admits: "I sink a few more ships, it's true, than a well-bred monarch ought to do/ But many a king on a first-class throne if he wants to call his crown his own/ Must manage somehow to get through more dirty work than ever I do ..."

The Southland Times