Monday, 4 September 2017

Dotcom, Copyright, And What Went Wrong

Cartoon of liar Chris Dodd and Kim Dotcom
I've been following the Kim Dotcom saga ever since MegaUpload was taken down by the FBI on the orders of the MPAA with little in the way of due process and sod all evidence. The case is winding down because they've got nothing. This is what happened.

This sad and sorry story began with the SOPA/PIPA nonsense back in 2011-2012. American law-makers came under pressure to "do something" about piracy, which they claimed was ruining their businesses, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary. Result: showboating agency staff decided to make an example of infringers, including Dotcom, Richard O'Dwyer, and Anton Vickerman. They also shut down websites with no due process — they just bulldozed in, grabbed what they could, and seized the domains. In some cases they reluctantly released them some considerable time later. Any rights you thought you had end at copyright. Anyone who considers whingeing about my animosity towards it should bear this in mind: due process or don't bother.

Copyright is an emotional issue

The arguments raging back and forth about copyright, etc., centre on how to adequately remunerate intellectual output. The argument goes, "I made it, I own it. If I write a song and you use it to make money, I am owed a share of your profit." This falls apart when you learn the story of Sir Paul McCartney and the songs he wrote for the Beatles — Sony will own them for decades after his death. It's not that simple, is it? This is more common than you realise — artists are expected to cede their copyrights to their labels as part of their contracts. So much for "I made it, I own it."

Semantic shenanigans

The continuing use of the term "intellectual property" is at the hub of the legal overreach Dotcom has experienced. Using that term pretends that copyright is property like a house or car, not a temporary monopoly privilege granted by government to allow a creator the sole right to make money from their creation in order to stimulate more creative output. Semantics is important: by controlling the words used you control the narrative, putting dissenters on the back foot trying to defend themselves from allegations of enabling and encouraging theft from starving artists. So far the copyright lobby is winning: we're using their words and fighting on their turf. That said, there are some signs that resistance is taking hold; public apathy hurts the copyright lobby too. I've written up some talking points to use when arguing with maximalists and people who simply don't realise what's at stake. The trouble with weasel wording is that the people pushing it totally believe in it. This is why they were so happy to metaphorically lynch Kim Dotcom. How could he NOT be guilty if MegaUpload was being used to host infringing files? Erm, it's unreasonable to hold him responsible for his users' behaviour. Besides, he cooperated with anti-infringement actions by the authorities and gave Hollywood studios access to remove links to items they considered infringing. This wasn't enough for them: to their mind, Kim was fencing stolen property and had to be made to pay.

Showboating, shock, and awe

The violent raid on Dotcom's home (and his mother's!) by an armed paramilitary force is the logical endgame of thinking that way. And remember, this was on suspicion alone. They were acting on the say-so of the studios. The authorities had so little in the way of evidence against him, they actually took to illegally spying on him. Let me reiterate, this is for allegedly enabling infringement of copyright, not terrorism. And they wanted him jailed as an example to the rest of us, kind of thing. Why is the USA's National Security Agency and New Zealand's intelligence agency involved in attempting to prosecute a copyright infringement case? This is a classic case of Big Government overreach and I don't see much in the way of Americans (or New Zealanders!) complaining about their tax dollars being wasted on what is essentially a corporate boondoggle. It is a waste — after all that effort, Dotcom is starting to get his property back and as I said the case is winding down. It won't be moving forward because it's a legal quagmire that conflates civil and criminal law and fails to prove violation of either.

Moving on

Dotcom has had a movie, "Caught in the web" made about him. While he's largely seen as some kind of internet hero he has been engaged in criminal activity — he's no saint, but sinner or not, if we don't have due process we don't have justice, just us. He has launched a new encrypted file-sharing service called "Mega" and now...

Dotcom is looking for popular YouTube stars to test his new micropayments system, Bitcache. Now he's giving Fortune a sneak preview of, a new online storage service that lets creators upload their files and make money every time people download them. - Exclusive: An Inside Look at Kim Dotcom’s Bitcoin-Based Payments Platform, by David Meyer for Fortune

It's early days yet; we've got no idea how successful it will be or even if Dotcom can shake the cloud of doubt hanging over him as a (relatively) free man. I can only say that, as copyright law gets ever more ridiculous, we can expect to see more heavy-handed enforcement and less in the way of actual justice.


  1. No matter what "artists are expected to cede" to labels, publishers or whomever else, what they actually cede is determined by the contract. If the artist isn't prepared to walk away from a bad deal, s/he deserves what s/he gets. In your example, Sony owns the copyright because McCartney signed them over.

  2. Eh, that's a bit harsh. People trying to make it in showbiz often either get bad advice or are convinced it's the best deal at the time. It's the copyright regime I have the problem with, not artists trying to earn a living from their work. I'm on their side. I just don't think that copyright is.