Well done, FBI, for helping Kim Dotcom achieve global fame

Well done, FBI, for helping Kim Dotcom achieve global fame

Summary: Kim Dotcom turned the launch of a small, buggy, not-very-original New Zealand website into a huge global media event, but he couldn't have done it without the help of the US justice system and the FBI.


It's a safe bet that a tiny New Zealand startup would not get much publicity for a new website, even if it staged a parody launch, complete with Maori dancers, a fake FBI helicopter, and balaclava-clad "commandos." But Kim Dotcom proved yesterday that he could dominate the online news agenda with his Mega launch, and the event was even covered in printed newspapers, where space is limited.

Kim_Dotcom_Mega-3 (200 x 157)

While Dotcom is clearly a skilled media manipulator--if you're amusing, you can get away with almost anything--his global fame has been handed to him by the overweening US judicial system and the FBI.

It must have made some sort of sense to the FBI to play whack-a-mole with file-sharing websites on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), but they picked the wrong mole to whack.

It might even have made some sort of sense to the New Zealand police to send up to 76 officers on an anti-terrorist-style raid on a 38-year-old family man with young children. (Four FBI agents "assisted with the inquiry," but didn't go on the raids.) However, this absurd show of force merely tarred New Zealand's image as a remote and peaceful land inhabited mainly by sheep and hobbits.

The armed raid also didn't do the local police's reputation much good, because a court decided its actions amounted to illegal search and seizure. New Zealand Judge Helen Winkelmann ruled that the police had acted illegally because its warrants--presumably constructed at the behest of the FBI agents--were too broad to be considered reasonable.

As AFP reported: "She also found computer data seized by police during the raid had been unlawfully copied and sent to authorities in the United States, who accuse Dotcom of racketeering, money laundering, and copyright theft."

In a further blow, New Zealand's Government Communications Security Bureau was rapped for "illegal spying" on MegaUpload's communications, for which Prime Minister John Key publicly apologised.

The anti-Dotcom action can hardly be considered a success when the direct result is that the Prime Minister finds he can't trust his own police force and security services to do the right thing.

The charges of "racketeering, money laundering, and copyright theft" also carry the stink of a US judicial system that often appears to be trying to bully victims into submission. People who don't think they are guilty of anything particularly serious, or who may even claim they are contributing to the public good, are supposed to plead guilty in return for a much lighter punishment than the decades of jail they're threatened with.

In some cases, as with Aaron Swartz and Jonathan James, the bullying approach does not have the desired result.

In the MegaUpload case, Kim Dotcom has managed to turn the assault on his New Zealand home and Hong Kong-registered business into an endless supply of free publicity.

The initial raid was, of course, widely reported, and received extra coverage for Dotcom's amusing taste in vanity number plates. The New Zealand police seized $6 million worth of cars, including ones plated GOOD, EVIL, CEO, STONED, MAFIA, HACKER, and GUILTY. They included a Rolls-Royce Phantom with a plate that read GOD.

Dotcom, released on bail, associated himself with the anti-SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) movement, Anonymous, and even Martin Luther King. In a rap video addressed to US President Barack Obama, he says: "I have a dream, like Dr King, this is the time to stand up and fight." The lyrics begin:

The war for the Internet has begun. / Hollywood is in control of politics. / The Government is killing innovation. / Don't let them get away with that.

Kim Dotcom - Mr President has had almost 1.5 million views on YouTube.

Whatever Hollywood may think, Kim Dotcom is a showman and joker, not the new Osama bin Laden. Giving him the same sort of "helicopters out of the sky" treatment has been counter-productive. It has simply given a man who used to live in quiet obscurity a global stage. Sunday's Mega launch--which became a huge media event--showed that he can and will exploit it.

Graph of Kim Dotcom's News Trend from Google Trends
A Mega hit: Kim Dotcom's News Trend from Google Trends. (Screenshot by ZDNet)

Update: Thanks to Kromgar who, in the Reddit discussion of this post, pointed out that the case is an example of the Streisand Effect.

Topics: Cloud, Government US, Storage, New Zealand

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • come on

    you put it like he used to be nobody. dude had 4% of total internet traffic, he's nowhere near that now. in fact, nobody and no other internet resource is
    • Google?

      n t
    • If someone downloaded....

      a gigabyte porn movie from MegaUpload, they probably didn't tell anybody about it, and they probably didn't mention Kim Dotcom. Technically, that gigabyte download is a lot of traffic compared to web pages, emails and tweets etc, but it's basically invisible, and much less important to the social and economic structure of the web.
      Jack Schofield
      • Re: they probably didn't tell anybody about it

        How else does the popularity of such services spread, if not by word of mouth?
      • Everyone was using Megaupload

        I don't know what corner of the web you were hanging out in but Megaupload was enormously popular and very well known. And, although there were certainly people using it for porn (hence the creation of Megaporn), most were not.
        Megaupload was used for sharing everything from old TV shows & software, to Wikipedia database dumps, Wikileaks releases and video coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
        If a person wanted to share large files (outside of P2P and torrents), Mediafire and Megaupload were the primary tools to do it with.
        As Dotcom said in a recent interview, Megaupload spread because of people sharing Megaupload download links.
        You are, however, correct about most people not knowing who Dotcom was before the corrupt U.S. gov set its sights on him.
        • I used all these services from when they were launched...

          including Streamload, which I mentioned in a previous post on Kim Dotcom, and Rapidshare. But I was doing file downloads long before the web was invented.

          As Dotcom says, most people found out about MegaUpload via links posted on various forums. There's still quite a difference between "using" (for back-ups and file sharing) and "using" (simple downloading).
          Jack Schofield
  • So stop chasing criminals because they'll become more famous?

    The blog made little sense. Media makes the news, not the FBI.

    Funny how I read more about this guy from your blogs then i saw on TV or on the BBI's website, so exactly who is making this guy famous - bloggers, or the FBI?
    William Farrel
    • Not at all obvious ......

      that he is a criminal.

      Prejudiced by any chance?

      All kinds of people all over the world go to jail or worse over trumped up criminal charges. Are you implying that this does not happen in the US?
    • Actually

      Media just shows the news. Private investors are the ones who make the news. Fox is a good example of this.

      The founding fathers of the US were all criminals. The idea present here is to stop criminalizing revolutionaries, and start listening to what they have to say.
    • Innocent until proven guilty should mean something

      Well, Wired magazine had him on the cover page and for weeks just about every mainstream news site I visited had an article on him not to mention every news channel.

      But your subject line is interesting and really is not related to the subject under discussion. Unless, of course, like some you do not believe that people are innocent until found guilty by a court with the jurisdiction to do so.

      Most people familiar with the facts of this story - like the Prime Minister of New Zealand for example - do believe that the police and the FBI went well beyond what was reasonable. If the police violate the law then this is going to make the news. Those of us who actually believe in the democratic ideals of fairness and justice will always come to the defense of those who get bullied by governments. And that's why this story has spread globally.
    • Your comment made no sense, because Kim Dotcom isn't a criminal

      He's a savvy businessman who was hugely successful with MegaUpload, and went a bit too close to the line of copyright law. Not a criminal.

      Now he has another hugely successful secure online storage service, and loads of free publicity for it. I used to think Mr Dotcom was a bit of an arrogant dick, but he's clever. And he made John Key look a fool. Several times, and continues to do so. For that, I quite like him now.
  • Wonder who is paying Jack to write this blog?

    There is no central world government because we even have bickering inside a small local town hall government, and this is an Internet age. How is it anyone can censor cloud storage? Would gov willing to foot the bill for sensor equipments and help upgrade private owners hardware? Well, Jack needs to do a lot more researches before giving so of his dinosaur opinions.
    • Your comment doen't make any sense, but

      to be clear, I get paid by ZDNet for blogging at ZDNet, and by the Guardian for blogging at the Guardian, and so on. I have never taken money from anybody but the publisher, and never will.
      Jack Schofield
      • and uhhh...

        it's not possible that -they- don't get paid from who anonymous99 was referring to?
  • Snitch

    I read that this guy ratted out other file sharing websites Sabu style.
    • ...

      [citation required]
  • blame shift

    FBI enforces the law by busting an offender. Media creates a frenzy of free public advertising for the offender. Media blames this on the FBI (for doing its job).
    Isaac Holden
    • Why is it the FBI's job?

      Hollywood studios can afford to spend $200 million to make a movie and they are crawling with lawyers capable of mounting copyright cases. Why is the American taxpayer funding the effort to lock up a German/Finnish entrepreneur who operates a Hong Kong website from New Zealand?
      Jack Schofield
    • FBI enforces the law?

      It's not the job of the FBI to enforce the law in New Zealand. In fact, they have no business doing so. They are certainly not doing their job when they try to export US laws into foreign jurisdictions - in fact, they are overstepping their authority so far that they have clearly lost sight of it.

      They were not enforcing the law, they were breaking it - as found by a New Zealand judge, who is the relevant authority in New Zealand.
  • FBI outside US?

    So by your logic, any Statal Police (let`s say N. Korean or Iranian) can prosecute any citisen (let`s say american), take him from his country (US in this case, like this fellow from NZ)?

    Is good to know that americans obey the law in this way :)

    And who punish the data stolen by US gov from the legit owners (megaupload`s users who had only legit files)?

    The criminals must pay, ANY of them, no matter the side they are in. Don`t you agree?

    (ps - isn`t against US Law to be prosecuted with stolen evidence? Shame ...)
    Bozesan Vlad