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The Dotcom crusader

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Back with a new site, the internet entrepreneur remains as defiant as ever, writes Toby Manhire in Auckland.

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A WEEK ago - almost a year after the internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and several associates were arrested in a dawn raid on his luxury home north of Auckland - about 200 invited guests gathered at Dotcom Mansion for the launch of Mega.

The new cyberlocker service is a simplified, super-encrypted successor to Megaupload, the file-sharing site that once reputedly accounted for 4 per cent of all internet traffic, and which US prosecutors had taken offline moments before the helicopters descended in New Zealand a year ago.

After spending almost a month in prison in early 2012, Dotcom and his co-accused were awarded bail - the first of a series of court victories that have left the prosecution case looking increasingly wobbly. With any hearing for extradition to the US to face criminal copyright charges having been pushed back, it is hard not to see the extravagant unveiling of the new site as a two-finger gesture aimed at US authorities.

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''I don't see it like that,'' says Dotcom, sitting at the head of a 20-metre-long table, flanked by two of his lawyers and his co-accused colleague Finn Batato - all glued to iPads and laptops. The German-born tycoon is more than willing to be cast as the courageous leader of a crusade against the dinosaurs of Hollywood and the politicians who enable their obsolete ways of doing business.

''We want to show the world that we are innovators. We want to show the world that cloud storage has a right to exist. And, of course, when you launch something like this, you can expect some controversy.

''The content industry is going to react really emotionally about this. The US government will probably try and destroy the new business … you've got to stand up against that, and fight that, and I'm doing that … I will not allow them to chill me.''

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The series of setbacks to the prosecution case has prompted speculation that the extradition hearing itself may never be heard - which Dotcom, who turned 39 this month, says he would regret.

''We want to expose what has happened here. We have a lot of information that shows the political interference. We feel that what happened here was manufactured to destroy Megaupload, and we want to show that.''

The case against Dotcom and his allies rests on proving that they were profiting from the illegal sharing of copyright-protected material.

''That's complete bullshit. Excuse my language, but that's just crap,'' Dotcom says. ''Megaupload was created initially as a service that allows you to send large files because email attachments had limitations … and that's still the case. The popularity and initial growth was all around that.

''This was never set up with the intent to be some kind of piracy haven. If the US government says that we are a mega-conspiracy, a mafia that has created this kind of thing to be a criminal network of pirates, they're completely wrong … for them it was about shutting it down and dealing with it later on the fly. They are hacking the legal system.''

And Dotcom knows a hacker. During what he has called his ''young and stupid'' years in Germany he was convicted for computer hacking, and later took a plea deal and a probation sentence over insider trading charges, though he maintains he was ''actually saving a company and over 120 jobs''.

The conviction was subsequently wiped from his record under German legislation.

Back then, Dotcom ''thought of myself as more American than Americans'', he says. ''I always had this attitude of can-do, and if you're successful you can show it, which is a very un-German thing, you know. And now, in hindsight, looking at this, the US has lost a lot of its flair for me. It's becoming such an aggressive state.''

After a year in which the Megaupload dispute has become one of the most prominent and colourful talking points in the debate over ''internet freedom'', Dotcom himself has, he says, had his eyes opened.

''I have a much better understanding now of how the US government operates and how much spying is actually going on, how much privacy intrusion is the reality today … We are very close to George Orwell's vision becoming a reality.''

In Dotcom's telling of the story, his travails began when the Motion Picture Association of America hired the veteran former senator Chris Dodd, who used his sway over his longtime ally, the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, to encourage a move on Megaupload.

''They had a political agenda, plus they had an upcoming election, and they needed an alternative for Sopa,'' says Dotcom, referring to the ill-fated and draconian Stop Online Piracy Act. ''It would probably have looked very bleak for [Obama] to go to Hollywood and ask them to help him get re-elected when he couldn't make Sopa happen for them. So Megaupload became a plan B.''

Meanwhile, says Dotcom, an aggressive and outdated approach in Hollywood blinkers them from the potential to build a new business model around the internet.

''There's so much money to be made, and those fools don't get it. They just don't get it.''

While reluctant to talk in detail about the case of Aaron Swartz, the Reddit co-founder who killed himself this month after what some have claimed was disproportionate behaviour by prosecutors over a hacking case, there are ''similarities in the way we have been prosecuted'', says Dotcom. ''Over-reaching abuse of power, no due process, just completely insane.''

And he sees a similar pattern in the treatment of WikiLeaks. ''I think Julian Assange's fear, that the Swedish government is co-operating with the US government and that there might be an attempt to extradite him from Sweden, is very real. So I sympathise with him. I see also similarities and abuses that are happening in the case against WikiLeaks that were happening to us.''

The technologist formerly known as Kim Schmitz - and Kimble, and Kim Tim Jim Vestor, and His Royal Highness King Kimble the First - has attained a strange cult hero status in his adopted home, New Zealand. He arrived in 2009 after six years in Hong Kong, to provide his family - he and his wife, Mona, have five children - with a greener environment.

The saga has also turned into a domestic political sinkhole. A right-wing MP has seen his political career compromised by revelations of undisclosed donations from Dotcom to an earlier mayoral campaign. Later, and more gravely, the Prime Minister was forced to apologise after accepting Dotcom had been illegally spied on.

With the Americans on the ''warpath'', Dotcom says, there seems little chance of the dispute ending amicably. But, he insists, swatting a fly away from his forehead, he remains open to talks.

''I'm not evil, you know? I'm a good guy. Everyone who knows me likes me … they should come to the table, come to their senses and work this out. Because I'm going to fight this thing. And there's no way in hell that they have any chance to win this. I don't see it. I don't see it because I know I'm innocent, and the lawyers know I'm innocent, and we have right on our side.''

Guardian News & Media