Kim Schmitz, at 37, who changed his name to Kim Dotcom, was enjoying life. He had a ton of toys and lived large. Why shouldn’t he? He had the money to pay for this life, and it’s no crime. Unless the source of the money came from crime, in which case it’s a different story altogether.
The indictment, a tedious document replete with the typical surplusage that makes his every utterance sound ominously nefarious, may be half (or more) fluff, but if only a tiny fraction is accurate, will be sufficient to lock him away forever.
Still, it sends the message. No matter where you are, or how big you get, the United States of America will get you, because it owns the internet.
He held German and Finnish passports, but lived in a mansion in Auckland, New Zealand. Sure, there were 525 servers used by MegaUpload in Virginia, but then there were 630 servers in the Netherlands. The corporation was based on Hong Kong. No matter. We have laws and the clout to make them apply to anyone, anywhere. Even to Kim Dotcom, who had the audacity to own cool cars with naughty license plates.
The indictment goes after six individuals, who between them owned 14 Mercedes-Benz automobiles with license plates such as “POLICE,” “MAFIA,” “V,” “STONED,” “CEO,” “HACKER, ” GOOD,” “EVIL,” and—perhaps presciently—”GUILTY.” The group also had a 2010 Maserati, a 2008 Rolls-Royce, and a 1989 Lamborghini. They had not one but three Samsung 83″ TVs, and two Sharp 108″ TVs. Someone owned a “Predator statue.” Motor bikes, jet skis, artwork, and even 60 Dell servers could all be forfeit to the government if it can prove its case against the members of the “Mega Conspiracy.”
It’s not the number of Mercedes owned is a significant criteria under the sentencing guidelines per se, but anybody who has more toys than the rest of us must have done something criminal. And we just hate them anyway for living a funner life than us.
As Ken at Popehat noted, the indictment and takedown came on the heels of the SOPA blackout, but couldn’t possibly have been related given the time and effort required for the investigation. Heck, they couldn’t have typed the indictment fast enough to make the timing work. Coincidence aside, it’s still part of the same problem, in that the government’s efforts to make its mark, to tell the world that it’s subject to the might of the United States even when it exists only in the cloud, was clear. The laws being considered by Congress, and for which Congress got smacked by an unforgiving internet, was a tentacle of the government’s effort to rule the world we know as the internet. So was this indictment.
There is a lesson in this indictment, fortuitously coming immediately after the blackout, that anyone who thinks the internet is the wild west, where there is no law other than survival of the fittest, is wrong. No matter where you are, no matter how much money you make, no matter what, the United States of America has taken jurisdiction over you and, well, will bring you down if it so chooses.
One of the underpinnings of the need for SOPA/PIPA, for law to address the devil of the web, was the inability of copyright holders to reach beyond the jurisdictional limits that comprised the foundation of our legal system. We could sue, and perhaps even get a judgment assuming we could meet the procedural requisites to appear to obtain jurisdiction under the old way of thinking about things, but it seemed like a pointless effort. All that time and money spent trying to grab hold of a world that existed in binary code. Why spend good money on a worthless judgment? The internet laughed at our legal system.
Thus comes the Mega Indictment, a very deliberate decision to use scarce prosecutorial resources to make a critical point in the maturation of the internet. Having already established through the peculiar jurisprudence of terrorism that everywhere is America for the purposes of jurisdiction, requiring little more than some facile rhetoric and a decent understanding of Chaos Theory to connect the dots and present a cogent argument about how everything that happens affects us, no matter where or when, jurisdiction over the Mega defendants was a no-brainer.
For the powers that favor an orderly and controlled internet, this indictment was absolutely critical, a means of telling every would-be internet pirate/entrepreneur that the rules apply or they will be crushed. That the internet is everywhere, and anywhere, would present no obstacle to the most powerful nation on Earth.
In a way, this was necessary. The internet defies arcane concepts of jurisdiction. Sure, a guy in his basement in Des Moines was easy enough to nail, but what of Dotcom in Auckland? Or Germany, or the Netherlands? What about Fujian or Bangalore? It no longer matters where you are. Physical presence has been rendered meaningless, and if the government of China or India isn’t interested in squelching piracy by someone on its soil, does that leave the rest of the world powerless to do anything?
We may not be particularly sympathetic to the MPAA or the RIAA because of their outrageously heavy-handed tactics, there are aggrieved parties who still need a means of redress short of putting together armed forces to invade foreign nations. On the other hand, the United States has taken it upon itself to declare sovereignty over the internet, to proclaim that no matter where it happens, it’s subject to our laws.
Thus far, it appears that law enforcement in New Zealand is on board with the United States ownership of the internet, and their cooperation in executing warrants and seizing cool cars with funky license plates smooths what might otherwise be a sticky situation. Whether the New Zealand courts will be as cooperative has yet to be seen.
While us little people were spending out time bemoaning SOPA/PIPA, the might of the United States was being applied to far bigger, far more important issues. But it’s all part of the same message. There will be law on the internet, and that law will be dictated by the United States of America. If we can take down MegaUpload, we can take down you. And me. And anyone. Now you know.