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.
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 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.