When file-hosting site Megaupload was shut down in 2012, few could have predicted the events of the years to follow.
The arrest of founder Kim Dotcom and colleagues Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato in New Zealand, triggered dozens of legal processes, many designed to expedite, delay or indeed avoid the quartet’s extradition to the United States.
Before it was closed, Megaupload claimed responsibility for around 4% of global Internet traffic. Much of this, the United States government claims, was pirated content, particularly movies, TV shows and music, costing US companies around US$500 million.
Dotcom has persistently argued that as an online service provider, Megaupload should receive safe harbor protections in respect of the activities of its users. US authorities, on the other hand, see a massive criminal conspiracy for which the four should face justice on the other side of the world.
At every step thus far, the New Zealand legal system has found in favor of sending the men to the United States.
In December 2015, Judge Dawson in the District Court found that Dotcom and his associates were eligible for extradition. That decision was subsequently appealed to the High Court, with Dotcom and his now former colleagues launching an appeal alongside a demand for a judicial review.
During February 2017, the appellants discovered that both of those efforts had proven unsuccessful. However, the men were granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal on two questions of law, including whether the High Court was correct to find that their alleged conduct amounted to an extradition offense.
In July 2018, the Court of Appeal upheld the earlier decision that Dotcom and the others were indeed eligible to be extradited. Importantly, the Court considered whether copyright infringement can be a criminal offense in New Zealand and the United States.
It was ultimately found that the alleged conduct of the men would breach various offenses under the Crimes Act 1961, meaning that extradition would be permissible. But this wouldn’t be a typical Dotcom matter if a final chance of appeal wasn’t grabbed with both hands.
As a result, the case headed to the Supreme Court, where the final hearing is taking place over five days this week, beginning today.
“In 2005 I created a website that allowed people to upload files to the cloud. At the time only small files could be attached to emails. Megaupload allowed users to email a link to a file. That’s it,” Dotcom wrote on Twitter this morning.
“In 2019 the NZ Supreme Court decides if I should be extradited for this ‘crime’.”
While lawyers for the accused are set to pick at every available thread in order to unravel the decision against their clients, early reports from the Supreme Court suggest already familiar themes.
Grant Illingworth, representing Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk, told the Court that he would be arguing that the alleged offenses did not amount to a crime in New Zealand, meaning that they could not be extraditable offenses. But, even if they were, insufficient evidence had been produced to show that offenses had even occurred.
“The district court judge misapplied the law at every stage of the judicial analysis,” Illingworth said, as quoted by RNZ.
“That constituted a serious miscarriage of justice. No higher court could have justified a finding of that kind, no matter how much they agreed with the outcome.”
Interestingly – or perhaps worryingly – it appears that discussions over how Megaupload operated were conducted via analogies this morning. At issue was Megaupload offering content for download and, in some cases, rewarding uploaders for putting that content there in the first place.
Justice Susan Glazebrook asked Illingworth whether it would be a breach of copyright if she photocopied a novel hypothetically written by one of her fellow judges and then sold it on a street corner. Illingworth said Megaupload didn’t make the copies, its users did.
“They’re providing the photocopier, someone else comes along and uses the photocopier. They’re [Megaupload] not putting up a sign saying, ‘Please come and use our photocopier for illegal purposes,’” he said.
Justice Joe Williams then elaborated on the analogy, alluding to Megaupload’s reward program.
“What if I get a wheelbarrow and I convey the copies [of the novel] to the street corner, knowing that she’ll be selling them, and she and I have some kind of agreement to share the profits?” he said.
Illingworth responded by saying it was never Megaupload’s intention to reward people for illegal behavior, it was all about rewarding them for increasing the site’s traffic.
While the hearing is set to run until Friday, any decision will take months to reach. Even if extradition is upheld, it will still need the approval of New Zealand’s Minister of Justice Andrew Little to take place.
His signature would mean that the men would be shipped to the US to face charges of copyright infringement, racketeering, and money laundering plus the possibility of years – even decades – in prison.