WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A court hearing in New Zealand on whether to extradite Kim Dotcom and three others who helped run the website Megaupload to the United States ended Tuesday after nine weeks of arguments.
A judge will now rule on whether the men should be sent to face trial in the U.S., where they have been charged with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering. If found guilty, the men could face decades in jail.
Judge Nevin Dawson didn’t indicate how long he might take to make a decision, although it’s likely to be at least several weeks. But the case could drag on for months because whichever side loses can appeal as far as the Supreme Court.
The case could have broader implications for Internet copyright rules. Dotcom’s lawyer Ron Mansfield said that if the U.S. side prevails, it would have a chilling effect on the Internet, and websites from YouTube to Facebook would need to more carefully police their content.
The case raises questions about how far U.S. jurisdiction extends in an age when the Internet has erased many traditional borders.
Once one of the Internet’s most popular websites, Megaupload was shut down by U.S. authorities in 2012. Prosecutors said it raked in $175 million, mainly from people using the site to illegally download movies.
Dotcom, the colorful German-born entrepreneur who started the site, argues that many people used it to legally store their digital files and he can’t be held responsible for those who didn’t.
In making their case, the U.S. said that intercepted communications between the men running Megaupload showed they sometimes reveled in their role as “modern-day pirates,” discussed how to thwart the justice system, and joked that a judge would one day realize how “evil” they were.
“This was a big fraud but conducted in a fairly simple manner,” said Christine Gordon, a New Zealand government lawyer who presented the U.S. case.
Mansfield argued there should be no criminal liability for the owners of Megaupload based on the illegal actions of its users. He said any case against Megaupload should have been heard in civil court.
He argued the defence was put at an unfair disadvantage because it couldn’t use more than $60 million in Megaupload’s Hong Kong-based assets that were frozen by authorities. He said the defence couldn’t afford to put international experts on the stand.
Dotcom this week commented on the case on Twitter: “I’m back in court today listening to the last episode of Alice in copyright land. 10 weeks of U.S. copyright fiction are coming to an end.”
As well as Dotcom, the U.S. is also trying to extradite former Megaupload officers Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato.