The strange legal battles surrounding Megaupload owner Kim Dotcom took not one, but two unexpected twists today, as the New Zealand judge in charge of his extradition hearings recuses himself from the case after an unexpected outburst and the troubled businessman penned an open letter to the industry seeking his imprisonment. If this was some kind of soap opera, both of these developments would seem unbelievable.
Auckland District Judge David Harvey has announced that he is stepping down from the case surrounding Dotcom and three Megaupload colleagues – Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk – and their possible extradition to the United States to face charges of criminal copyright violation, after making comments during a public appearance in which he described the US as “the enemy.” The commentary – a paraphrase of the famous saying “We Have Met The Enemy… And He Is Us” from Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic strip – came as Judge Harvey spoke at a conference discussion recently on copyright and trade talks with the US, telling the assembled audience that “we have met the enemy, and he is [the] US.”
Harvey’s departure from the case was announced by district court’s chief judge Jan-Marie Doogue, who said in a statement that Harvey “recognises that remarks made in the context of a paper he delivered on copyright law at a recent internet conference could reflect on his impartiality and that the appropriate response is for him to step down from the case.” He will be replaced immediately by Judge Nevin Dawson, who has already been involved in hearings connected with the case; Dawson was actually being the person who decided to allow Dotcom to be released on bail this February after only a month in jail, pending further developments in the case. He will preside over the next step in the case as it returns to court next month.
In the meantime, Dotcom released an open letter to “Hollywood” via the Hollywood Reporter, in which he addressed the charges against him both legal and moral. Explaining that “The people of the Internet will unite. They will help me. And they are stronger than you. We will prevail in the war for Internet freedom and innovation that you have launched,” Dotcom declared his innocence of the charges leveled against him in suitably melodramatic fashion:
As you should have known, our Mega services operated within the boundaries of the law. We had users that spanned from the military to Hollywood to lawyers and doctors. If you are unhappy with that, it is up to you to convince Congress to amend legislation. You tried with SOPA and you failed. As an alternative, you chose to lobby the Justice Department to ignore the law and stage a global show of force and destruction. The only parties a New Zealand court has found to have violated the law in this case are the local police and the FBI. Regardless of the issues you have with new technologies, you can’t just engage armed forces halfway around the world, rip a peaceful man from his family, throw him in jail, terminate his business without a trial, take everything he owns without a hearing, deprive him of a fair chance to defend himself and do all that while your propaganda machine is destroying him in the media. Is that who you want to be?
Announcing that “there will be a happy ending,” he positioned Megaupload as an innocent cloud sharing system, and therefore part of an inevitable future of computing before slyly inviting discussion as to closing out his ongoing problems. “Unfortunately I can only do lunch in New Zealand,” he finished.