Paul Spain is the host of the weekly NZ Tech Podcast, one of New Zealand's leading locally produced podcasts and often appears on TV and video as a commentator on consumer and business technology topics.
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND -- It’s been said that Kim Dotcom is a villain. Many, particularly those in the film industry and law enforcement, believe it. To others, he is a hero standing up for the rights of Internet users everywhere.
[More from Mashable: Kim Dotcom’s Mega Begins Early Rollout]
I wanted to find out for myself where he stood.
I arrived at the Dotcom Mansion early Sunday afternoon New Zealand time. It was just a few hours after the launch of Kim Dotcom’s new website Mega.co.nz and one year since his mansion was raided and he was arrested by New Zealand police in conjunction with a U.S. request to extradite him.
[More from Mashable: Kim Dotcom’s Mega Loses Web Domain Before Debut]
A Chat With Kim Dotcom
A friendly Kim Dotcom greeted each of us in a small media gathering, before sitting at the head of the table flanked by Ira Rothken, his California-based attorney.
I expected a prepared statement. That wasn’t the case. Dotcom shared his excitement about the 250,000 Mega signups in the first two hours and soon led into Q&A session for the remaining 45-minutes. He proved to be extremely adept in the way he responded to questions, working effortlessly to position Mega as an innovator. He indicated a desire to help the film industry succeed in the world of digital downloads and streaming -- rather than being just a company out to line its own pockets.
Dotcom’s opinions and arguments for his cause were strong and generally well thought out, though on occasion seemed less robust. For instance he suggested he’d found a great way films could be funded in the future. His concept involves studios signing up digital streaming distributors around the world to fund a movie ahead of its production.
He felt distributors might pay for streaming rights before production, thereby funding the production. Unfortunately, I feel revenues from streaming (now and for the foreseeable future) are typically so low this would only provide a small fraction of the funds needed to produce a movie. And who wants to risk paying up front for a movie that might be a flop?
When asked about whether he would stay in New Zealand if he succeeds in stopping his extradition to the U.S. later this year, he was non-committal. On one hand he said he loved the country but on another he was worried he’d be persecuted by authorities, and in that case he’d leave. He spoke of journalists, music and movie producers on their way to visit him being harassed by customs officials upon arrival in the country –- including strip searches and even a request to view the content of one visitor’s laptop. I’ve not been able to verify these rather extreme occurrences.
Dotcom has positioned Mega as a service that sits between Dropbox and his previous site Megaupload -– with the added benefits of end-to-end encryption. He and Rothken went to great lengths to highlight that Mega would operate entirely within the law.
Dotcom made little effort to suggest Mega would be less prone to being a haven to copyright materials than Megaupload was. It seems there will continue to be a game of cat and mouse afoot as Dotcom and authorities try to outwit each other.
(A full audio recording of the discussion will be available later today at NZ Tech Podcast.)
In a one-on-one setting with Dotcom, I tried to gain more understanding about the open source elements of the Mega service and his commitment to New Zealand. Interestingly he was reticent to provide solid answers to either question and provided what I felt were just pat answers aimed at fobbing me off.
As we left the compound mid-afternoon, we saw Kim on stage rehearsing for the evening performance he would lead, with the support of musicians, his co-accused and investors in the new Mega. That performance included a dramatization of the raid on his home one year before. It was a gathering filled with media from around the country and a few from abroad. In the public context he continued to sell Mega extremely well –- to the point where someone commented to me that the event at times felt like a religious or marketing conference.
Dotcom currently remains on bail until his extradition hearing due in September. Amongst those in attendance, it appeared widely accepted that the bid to extradite him from New Zealand to the U.S. is likely to fail because of mistakes made by law enforcement and New Zealand spy agency GCSB.
After my visit, I’m left with a number of fairly clear impressions about Kim Dotcom and Mega. How you take these will depend on which side of the fence you stand:
- Mega’s management team is making every effort to operate in a manner that does not fall afoul of the law (though it could be argued they did the same with Megaupload).
- Mega will be used to distribute copyrighted materials such as movies, TV shows and music -– though likely to a lesser extent than Megaupload did.
- Kim Dotcom will continue to draw controversy and be outspoken about the rights of Internet users everywhere. He is not backing down.
Love him or hate him, Kim Dotcom is back in business and, if he’s to be believed, no fair court will be able to stop him.
Dotcom raid being re-enacted at the mansion.
Photos by Paul Spain
This story originally published on Mashable here.