A hearing for the extradition to the U.S. of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom began Monday in Auckland, New Zealand, with a number of civil rights activists, including Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, opposing the hand over.
Dotcom and colleagues, and two companies including the file-sharing site Megaupload, were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia in January 2012 and charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement and money laundering, and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
On Jan. 20, 2012 the New Zealand police searched the homes of Dotcom and a colleague Bram van der Kolk. The police also obtained warrants for the arrest of Dotcom and his three associates and they were arrested at the same time, but were later granted bail.
Dotcom has held that he was running a cloud storage firm like any other, and had made efforts to remove infringing content. The seizure of his assets by prosecutors has hamstrung his legal defense, according to his backers.
Besides the U.S. government, six major U.S. movie studios also filed a civil suit against Dotcom for alleged copyright infringements.
The suit filed in April last year in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria charges Megaupload and Dotcom, among others, of encouraging its users to upload infringing copies of popular entertainment content.
The website benefited from selling premium subscriptions for unrestricted downloads and online advertising space, according to the complaint. It alleged that the website made about US$150 million in subscriptions and another $25 million from advertisements on Megaupload and associated websites.
Ahead of the extradition hearings, Dotcom tweeted: "I am going to court today. The question is innovator or pirate. The answer will be Internet freedom or censorship."
Lessig believes that there is no basis in U.S. criminal law for extraditing Dotcom.
In an expert opinion filed to the Auckland court, Lessig, who has said he will run for the post of U.S. President, argues that the DOJ has not established that the respondents committed crimes of copyright infringement. "A showing of willful criminal copyright infringement requires compact factual proof identifying a specific copyrighted work, a right of the owner that has been violated, the geographical location of the infringement and other specific facts needed to establish a violation of United States criminal law," wrote Lessig in a filing to the District Court at North Shore.
General allegations that the founders willfully agreed with users to promote piracy are also not supported by facts, he added. Under a willfulness standard, proof of indifference, recklessness, or negligence is insufficient to constitute criminal copyright infringement, Lessig wrote.
“It is my opinion that the Superseding Indictment and Record of the Case filed by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) do not meet the requirements necessary to support a prima facie case that would be recognized by United States federal law and subject to the US – NZ Extradition Treaty,” he added.
The hearings are expected to continue for a number of weeks.