The decision of a United States court on Saturday to release the FBI summary of the case against Kim Dotcom provides a timely reminder of what the Dotcom saga is actually all about.
For two years we have been endlessly strafed with argument over irregularities in the way evidence against him was gathered and in the manner of his arrest.
These are distractions from the fundamental case against him.
Megaupload was a file-sharing website, where members could make files available to other members. The company made money - a lot of money - by selling advertising space on the site.
If the files were popular, the person who uploaded the file got a kickback from that revenue, encouraging the upload of popular material.
So far so good. No-one is objecting to Ethel McMurray's sharing with the world her enormous collection of photos of her cat Tiddles, and garden gnome Gerald.
But, inevitably, some people uploaded files to which they had no legal right: movies, songs, software.
If an Invercargill teenager recorded a song in her garage and it became a hit, we would be delighted. We would probably put her picture in The Southland Times. If she made that song available on the internet, charging 99 cents for a download, we would hail her entrepreneurship and wish her luck.
If someone then took a copy of that song and offered it on another site for free - without her permission - would that be OK?
Would it be OK if 50,000 people downloaded the free version, and sales of the 99c version dried up? Would it be OK if the person who made that free version available got financial kickbacks from the hosting website, and made more money than the artist?
The Southland Times says no. That would be as wrong as if she had put a box of CD-singles out on the road with an honesty box and a sign asking for $1 a pop, and someone had simply stolen the whole box.
No-one is denying that the internet version of this is exactly what happened on Megaupload.com. Indeed, it happened quite a lot. This is why the site was taken down by US authorities.
Dotcom and his co-defendants plead innocence. They merely provided the website that enabled these crimes. They blocked anyone identified as supplying stolen material.
No, you didn't, the US replies. In fact, the indictment claims, not only did Megaupload turn a blind eye, but the site could never have succeeded without it, and they knew it. The demand for pictures of Tiddles is pretty small. The real money came ultimately from providing access to stolen copyrighted material.
In effect, according to prosecutors, Dotcom was a fence.
Dotcom has further argued that what he did was OK because some of the victims of the intellectual property theft in which he is implicated were rich. Really? That makes it OK to steal from them? That is a very slippery moral slope to step on. And what makes you the judge of whom it is OK to steal from, we ask.
Those on the sidelines should not be distracted by the sideshows. Kim Dotcom is a criminal with convictions for embezzling, insider trading and computer fraud, who has profited from the theft and effective sale of others' creative endeavours.
Whatever the courts may decide about legality, judging the morality of his acts is well within our rights.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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