After nearly four years of legal squabbling and delays, the extradition trial for the notorious German tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom began today in a New Zealand court.
Dotcom, who founded the file-sharing site Megaupload, is facing charges of copyright infringement, racketeering, and money laundering. The outcome of the hearing will determine if he, along with three former Megaupload executives, will be extradited to the US to face charges by the Justice Department.
This case is not just about me. This case is about how much control we allow US corporations and the US government to have over the Internet
— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom)September 20, 2015
Dotcom arrived at the court in his Mercedes SUV with the license plate "KIM.COM," and entered the courtroom wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap. He sat apart from his accused colleagues in a special leather armchair that was brought in because he has back problems.
In early 2012, dozens of armed New Zealand police — assisted by the FBI — raided his sprawling mansion located northwest of Auckland, arresting Dotcom and confiscating millions of dollars worth of cars, laptops, and weapons. Dotcom's security cameras captured the raid on video that he later uploaded online.
Before it was shut down, Megaupload was one of the top 100 most popular websites, according to the analytics firm Alexa Internet. It allowed users to upload large files and access them in a cloud-sharing service. Although the site was free, paying subscribers could upload and download unlimited content faster. The company said it had some 50 million daily visitors.
The DOJ says Dotcom cost film studios and record companies more than $500 million and generated more than $175 million in criminal proceeds by encouraging paying users to store and share copyrighted material, such as movies and TV shows, through Megaupload. Dotcom maintains that he is innocent, that Megaupload took efforts to ensure that users did not share copyrighted material, and that the company's executives had no criminal intent.
The FBI has described the Megaupload copyright case as one of the largest in history. According to Dotcom's lawyers, it is also the first to criminally prosecute a data-sharing site based on the conduct of its users. Dotcom's defense team has tried to stall the extradition trial — which has no bearing on his culpability — on the basis of procedural errors. It has said that the DOJ's case "rests on a host of novel theories of criminal liability for copyright infringement" that extend "well beyond their intended reach, their territorial scope and the limits of the Constitution."
Dotcom's lawyers are arguing that for him to be extradited, it must be shown that the law might have been broken in both the US and New Zealand. He and his co-defendants have not been charged with crimes in New Zealand.
Whatever the court's decision in this hearing, an appeal from either the defense or the prosecution is almost certain, meaning the process is likely to stretch on for much longer than it already has.
Dotcom said on Twitter he has received an outpouring of "uplifting" good luck messages from online supporters. The hearing is scheduled to last two weeks and will resume on Thursday, after Monday's largely procedural session. Dotcom and his lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE News.