In an in-depth interview, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom discusses the investigation against his now-defunct file-storage site, his possible extradition to the US, the future of Internet freedoms and his latest project Mega with RT’s Andrew Blake.
The United States government says that Dotcom, a German millionaire formerly known as Kim Schmitz, masterminded a vast criminal conspiracy by operating the file-storage site Megaupload. Dotcom, on the other hand, begs to differ. One year after the high-profile raid of his home and the shut-down and seizure of one of the most popular sites on the Web, Dotcom hosted a launch party for his latest endeavor, simply called Mega. On the anniversary of the end of Megaupload, Dotcom discusses the year since his arrest and what the future holds in regards to both his court case and the Internet alike. Speaking with RT’s Andrew Blake from his Coatesville, New Zealand mansion, Dotcom weighs in on the US justice system, the death of Aaron Swartz, the growing surveillance state, his own cooperation with the feds and much more.
‘Hollywood is a very important contributor to Obama’
RT: You’ve blamed President Obama and the Obama administration for colluding with movie companies in order to orchestrate this giant arrest here in New Zealand. Is this kind of give-and-take relationship between Washington and Hollywood all that you say it is? Or are you just the exception? Does this really exist?
Kim Dotcom: You have to look at the players behind this case, okay? The driving force, of course, is Chris Dodd, the chairman of the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America]. And he was senator for a long time and he is — according to [US Vice President] Joe Biden — Joe Biden’s best friend. And the state attorney that is in charge of this case has been Joe Biden’s personal counsel, Neil MacBride, and [he] also worked as an anti-piracy manager for the BSA, the Business Software Association, which is basically like the MPAA but for software companies.
And also, the timing is very interesting, you know? Election time. The fundraisers in Hollywood set for February, March [and] April. There had to have some sort of Plan B, an alternative for SOPA [the Stop Online Piracy Act], because the president certainly was aware — and his team at the White House was aware — that if they don’t have anything to give at those fundraisers, to those guys in Hollywood who are eager to have more control over the Internet, they wouldn’t have probably raised too much. And Hollywood is a very important contributor to Obama’s campaign. Not just with money, but also with media support. They control a lot of media: celebrity endorsements and all that.
So I’m sure the election plays an important role. The relationships of the people that are in charge of this case play an important role and, of course, we have facts that we want to present at our extradition hearing that will show some more detail about this and that this is not just some conspiracy theory but that this actually happened.
RT: The US Justice Department wants to extradite you, a German citizen living in New Zealand operating a business in Hong Kong. They want to extradite you to the US. Is that even possible?
KD: That is a very interesting question because the extradition law, the extradition treaty in New Zealand, doesn’t really allow extradition for copyright. So what they did, they threw some extra charges on top and one of them is racketeering, where they basically say we are a mafia organization and we set up our Internet business to basically be an organized crime network that was set up and structured the way it was just to do criminal copyright infringement. And anyone who has every used Megaupload and has any idea about how that website worked knows immediately that it was total nonsense. But they needed to chop that on in order to have even a chance for extradition. But in our opinion, you see, all of that was secondary. The primary goal was to take down Megaupload and destroy it completely. That was their mission and that’s why the whole thing in Hong Kong, for example, they called it Operation Takedown. And I think everything that’s happening now, they are trying on the fly to doctor it around, and found a way to find a case. They probably came here and thought, “We will find something; that these guys have done something wrong.” In the indictment, if you actually read that, it’s more like a press release. There’s nothing in there that has any merits.
RT: When the raid happened one year ago today, it got a lot of people talking both about the Internet and about this character, Kim Dotcom. But it was a lot of talking and not so much action, because here it is one year later and this case is still happening. Back up earlier this month, and we saw Aaron Swartz — an online information activist — pass away, and only in his mid-20s. And it got a lot of people talking, so much so that members of Congress have actually asked for changes to federal computer laws so that this doesn’t happen again. What is it actually going to take to get people to stop just talking and to actually start acting?
KD: Our case is going to be the one that will have much more attention down the road because it is a crucial case for Internet freedom. And I think more and more people realize that and the government is quite exposed here because they really went in with completely prosecutorial abuse and overreach and ignoring due process, ignoring our rights, spying on us, illegal search warrants, illegal restraining orders, illegal spying. The whole picture, when you look at it, shows that this was an urgent mission, done on a rush. “Take them down, I want them to go.” And it was a political decision to do that. And the execution was extremely poor, and the case is extremely poor, because that is something they thought that they could worry about later. It was all about the takedown. “Let’s send a strong message to Hollywood that we are on their side.”
RT:And now it’s been a year and nothing has progressed. At least for them. It seems like the case is falling apart day by day.
KD: Let me give you one example of how crazy this is. We have a judge here who said, “Please show us your evidence about your racketeering allegations. Show us that these guys were setting up some sort of organized crime network,” because that’s what the extradition will focus on primarily. They are using the organized crime treaty to get us extradited. So the US appealed that and said, “We don’t want to show you what we have.” And then they appealed to the high court and the high court then said, “We want to see it.” And they just keep appealing it, all the way to the court of appeals and to the Supreme Court. And what does that tell you? If you don’t even want to show us your cards — show us what you have! If you have such a strong case and are seriously interested about getting someone extradited, why waste all this time? Just show your hand. And they don’t have anything because we haven’t done anything wrong. We were law abiding. We were a good corporate citizen. And they knew that the time they came here to do this. They just wanted to take us down.
‘I want to reestablish a balance between a person and the state’
RT :The new program, Mega, is fully encrypted, and you’re touting it as an encrypted program so that people will want to use it. Do you think this is even necessary, right now, that people need encryption on the Internet?
KD: I think it’s important for the Internet that there is more encryption. Because what I have learned since I got dragged into this case is a lot about privacy abuses, about the government spying on people. You know, the US government invests a lot of money in spy clouds: massive data centers with hundreds of thousands of hard drives storing data. And what they are storing is basically any communication that traverses through US networks. And what that means they are not spying on individuals based on a warrant anymore. They just spy on everybody, permanently, all the time. And what that means for you and for anybody is that if you are ever a target of any kind of investigation, or someone has a political agenda against you, or a prosecutor doesn’t like you, or the police wants to interpret something in a way to get you in trouble — they can use all that data, go through it with a comb and find things even though we think we have nothing to hide and have done nothing wrong. They will find something that they can nail you with and that’s why it’s wrong to have these kinds of privacy abuses, and I decided to create a solution that overtime will encrypt more and more of the internet. So we start with files, we will then move to emails, and then move to Voice-Over-IP communication. And our API [Application Programming Interface] is available to any third-party developer to also create their own tools. And my goal is, within the next five years, I want to encrypt half of the Internet. Just reestablish a balance between a person — an individual — and the state. Because right now, we are living very close to this vision of George Orwell and I think it’s not the right way. It’s the wrong path that the government is on, thinking that they can spy on everybody.
RT: Long before Megaupload was ever taken down, the Justice Department was looking into Ninja Video and you actually cooperated with them. People want to know: how is Kim Dotcom, this guy who is incredibly against Washington and hates everything that they’ve done to him, how is this same guy also helping out the Justice Department?
KD: Let me explain to you how this worked, okay? I was a good corporate citizen. My company was abiding to the laws. If we get a search warrant or we get a request by the government to assist in an investigation, we will comply and we have always complied. And that is the right thing to do, because if someone uploads child pornography or someone uploads terrorist stuff or anything that is a serious crime, of course we are there to help. This is our obligation. And I am not for copyright infringement. People need to understand that. I’m against copyright infringement. But I’m also against copyright extremism. And I’m against a business model: the one from Hollywood that encourages piracy. Megaupload is not responsible for the piracy problem, you see? It’s the Hollywood studios that release a movie in the US, and then six months later in other parts of the world. And everyone knows that the movie is out there and fans of a particular actress want to have it right now, but they are not giving them any opportunity to get access to that content even though they are willing to pay. And they are looking for alternatives on the Internet, and then they find them. They are trying to make me responsible for their lack of ability to adapt to a new reality, which is the Internet, where everything happens now. It doesn’t happen three months later. Imagine you go to Wikipedia. You want to find something, research an article, and they tell you to come back in three months, ‘We’ll give it to you then.’ If you find another site where you can get it right now, that’s where you go, right? So it’s really their business model that is responsible for this issue. And if they don’t adopt, they will be left behind on this side of the road of history like many others who haven’t adopted in the past.
‘I’m not Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz is my hero. He was selfless’
RT: What about your skeptics who point out this big playboy lifestyle and this giant, elaborate house and say ‘He’s not worried about Internet freedoms, he’s just worried about protecting his profits’?
KD: Let me be clear: I am a businessman, okay? I started Megaupload as a business to make money. I wanted to list the company. I am an entrepreneur, alright? I’m not Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz is my hero. He was selfless. He is completely the opposite of me, but I’m a businessman. I’m driven by the success of achieving something in the business world. That’s not a crime. There is nothing wrong with that. And if you create something that is popular and that people want to use, you automatically make money. And I’ve always been an innovator. I’ve always created products that people like. And that’s why I’m successful. I’m not successful because people have used Megaupload for copyright infringement. And what everyone needs to understand [is] there have been massive amounts of legitimate users on Megaupload. We don’t believe that 50 million users a day are all just transferring piracy. That’s wrong. A lot of people have used it to back up their data, to send a file quickly to a friend. Young artists have used it to get traction, to get downloads, to get known. There was a lot of legitimate use on Megaupload. It’s a dual-use technology, just like the Internet. You can go to any ISP right now, anyone who connects customers to the Internet. And if they are honest to you and you ask them the question ‘How much of your traffic is peer-to-peer piracy?’ anyone who will tell you less than 50 percent is lying to your face. This is a problem of the Internet and not Megaupload.
RT: If you weren’t doing Mega, or Megaupload, what would you be doing? Here’s this businessman who strives to accomplish success. What would you be doing?
KD: I would probably build spaceships and we would probably already be on Mars.
RT: What happens next, though? What are the chances of Mega being shut down. We already saw that radio stations were pulling ads.
KD: The content industry is still very emotional about us.We bought radio ads with one of the major networks here for eight radio stations. Very funny, very cool ads, promoting our service as a privacy service. And the labels called up the radio station, and one advertiser who is in the movie business called up the radio station, and demanded those adds to be taken down or else they will not buy ads from them anymore. And they were forced because they rely, of course, on that advertisement. My campaign was comparably small to the amount that they are sending. So they used their power to interfere in our right to have a media campaign, an ad campaign. And that just shows you that attitude. It’s against the law. They can’t do that. That’s interfering in our business and they have done that many times in the past. Calling payment processors, calling advertisers, telling them, ‘I don’t want you to work with these guys.’ That’s just wrong. If you have an issue with us, go hire a lawyer, sue us, take us to court and then see if you have anything that will give you a judgment against us. But instead, they use that power and their money to get new laws made for them, to lobby politicians, to get the White House to come here and destroy our lives. Destroy 220 jobs. Hardworking innocent people and they don’t give a damn about that. They had an agenda that is about more control over the Internet. And they made a strategic decision to say ‘Who are we going to take out to send a strong message?’ And I was the one.
“If they come to attack us, it’s just going to backfire”
RT: But what happens if Mega is shut down? You are only on day one right now. How long is it going to take before the government steps up again and what are you going to do if that happens? Are you prepared to just start all over again? It’s been one year and here you are, doing this over again, what happens when Uncle Sam puts his foot down and grinds you into the dirt again? Do you get back up?
KD: Here is the thing. This startup is probably the most scrutinized when it comes to legal advice. Every single aspect of it has been under the looking glass by our legal team. So we are confident that it’s fully compliant with the law, and if they come to attack us it’s just going to backfire. Exactly like the Megaupload case did. The shutdown of our site backfired already, massively. And it’s just going to get worse for them. If they think they can pursue this and get away with this, they are dead wrong. Because the society is not on their side. Everyone who uses the Internet knows what’s going on here. They don’t like what’s going on here. They saw it with SOPA and you will see it with our case. People will come together and fight this kind of aggression against innovation and Internet freedom.
“We are all the little puppets that they think they can kick around”
RT: After Megaupload was shut down by the FBI last year, hacktivist with the movement Anonymous retaliated, so to speak. In response, they went and took down the websites for the FBI, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Department of Justice, the Recording Industry Association of America. All of these organizations were shut down by Anonymous in response to what they did to you. These were people who you never met but were so moved by what happened that they had to stand up and do something. Did you ever thank them, and how did you take it? How did you respond to their reaction?
KD: It’s a kind of virtual protest, you know? I think it’s not a good idea to shut down websites. I’ve been a hacker myself. I understand why they are doing it and how they are doing it, but I think there are better ways to protest. Where you organize yourself in a group and do petitions and actually email congressmen, email your local politicians, let them know about what you don’t like. Organize your movement rather than attacking. I had a sense of understanding for them because everyone had stored so much data on Megaupload, and then all of a sudden a site like that disappears and billions of files are taken offline, the majority of them perfectly legitimate. You need to understand one thing: 50 percent of all files that were ever uploaded to Megaupload have not even been downloaded once. That clearly shows the non-infringing use. People just wanted to store their stuff on our site. And of course they were outraged when that disappeared and the government said, ‘We don’t give a care and we don’t give a damn about you people. We don’t care that you have your personal documents there because we have our agenda and we are going to take over the Internet.’ And you know the White House was supporting SOPA, and only when the masses came together — and Aaron Swartz: he stopped SOPA. With his efforts, he stopped SOPA. And he became a target. A political target, okay? And that’s why all these things happened to him. There is no reasonable cause behind going after a young genius like that in the fashion they did. It’s political. Because the White House wanted SOPA. They promised it to Hollywood and they failed and they couldn’t go ahead because the White House was afraid if they keep pushing hard and they keep pushing it forward, that the people who oppose it are not going to vote for Obama in the reelection campaign. So it’s all a game to them really and we are all the little puppets that they think they can kick around. So we need to organize. There needs to be a movement that identifies these things and fights that. Not with shutting down websites but with real protests. Going out on the streets, writing to politicians and especially, most importantly, don’t vote for the guys that are against Internet freedom. Anyone who voted for SOPA, you should have a close look at that guy. Do I want to give him my vote next time around? Because that’s the only language politicians understand is your vote. And if you can bring all these votes together, somehow pooled for Internet freedom, you will see all these efforts disappear. Because at the end of the day, they represent the public. Politicians represent the public. And when they have enough pressure they can’t move forward. And SOPA was the best example for that.