Professionalism/Kim Dotcom and Megaupload
Dotcom grew up in a turbulent household with his abusive, alcoholic father. This experience made Dotcom unafraid and unimpressed by authority:
“I had all the fear I could handle by the time I was 6...It made me strong.”
As a child, Dotcom disdained school, regularly skipping class and sleeping in. According to Gabriele Killig, the former principal of his school:
“He was an intelligent student; he just didn’t apply that intelligence in the right places...he didn’t really do anything for the community and rather incited mischief.”
Dotcom, indifferent to academics, became interested in technology. As a child, Dotcom became entranced by Commodore 16 in a shop window, believing it was interesting in a way school could never be. A schoolmate showed Dotcom how to copy a computer game by removing one line of code. He later sold these copies to friends. As a teenager, Dotcom took up computer hacking:
"You find this world as a teenager, 14, 15 years old? You don’t even think about going to school now, man.”
Dotcom eventually left high school without a diploma.
In 2003, Dotcom created Data Protect Ltd, a company focused on file-sharing and digital content distribution. In 2005, the company was renamed Megaupload with Megaupload.com being the company's primary website. Megaupload provided cloud storage: users accessed the site to store files on the Internet. At its peak, Megaupload had over 150 employees, $175 million in revenues, was the 13th most visited site on the Internet, and responsible for 4% of all Internet traffic. In 2010 alone, Dotcom made $42 million from the enterprise.
Anyone with a computer and basic Internet skills could easily upload content to Megaupload. People worldwide started to store and view unauthorized copies of television shows, feature length films, songs, applications, and other software on the site. The vast number of users made it difficult for the site to keep tabs on all user content. Organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) complained to law enforcement officials that "Megaupload was getting rich by helping millions of people store and distribute pirated films and TV shows."
In January 2012, the United States Department of Justice seized all domains associated with Megaupload.com. New Zealand Police arrested Dotcom in a military-style raid conducted on his Coatesville home. All of Dotcom's assets were frozen. He was accused of endorsing or, at the minimum, giving a blind eye to illegal copyright infringement activity on his site.
Dotcom and six others were indicted in Virginia (where their domain in the US was located) for online piracy, racketeering, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, and conspiring to commit money laundering.
If found guilty, Dotcom and others could receive a maximum penalty of fifty years for all charges. Dotcom was eventually released on bail and is currently residing back at his New Zealand home.
Professionalism of Dotcom
Dotcom's actions in this case are evidence for whether he can be called a professional, and if not, how and why he failed.
Commenting on Megaupload's origin, Dotcom stated:
“One day I was sending a file to a friend via email and I got a message back saying the file is too large and the mail server has refused to send it. So I thought what I can come up with, what can I do to solve that? So I basically created a server where I could upload a file, and got a unique link and then I would just email that link to my friend and he would then get the file and that’s how Megaupload started"
Dotcom was interested in engineering a technical solution to solve people's problems. Dotcom maintained that Megaupload did not violate copyright infringement:
“There are so many countless, legitimate uses for Megaupload that the piracy element is really just one that is minute and shouldn’t even be the primary focus.”
Dotcom asserted that content providers had access to delete files that infringed on their copyright and that about 15 million links were deleted because of this. Dotcom also stated that similar services like Youtube have the same problem but aren't being scrutinized. However, many criticized Megaupload and Dotcom using copyrighted content to gain money and popularity. The US government claimed that Megaupload.com was a front for illegal content and that Dotcom was aware and in support of this activity. As big as his website was, did Dotcom do all in his power to stop illegal activity, or did he ignore it to gain more money? If the latter, Dotcom's professionalism is severely suspect.
Dotcom has manipulated public opinion to portray himself as an eccentric millionaire whose antics either amaze or amuse the public. In 2000, Dotcom filmed Kimble Goes to Monaco, a documentary chronicling a lavish trip to Monaco. In 2011, Dotcom gifted a huge fireworks show to the city of Auckland, costing roughly NZ$600,000. On December 31, 2011, Dotcom uploaded a Youtube video celebrating his ascension to the #1 world ranking in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. In these examples, Dotcom portrays himself not as a criminal, but as an eccentric, endearing person who loves life.
Even after the Megaupload takedown, Dotcom remained relatively popular and influential. In a poll for Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world for 2013, Dotcom came in third place. In a 2012 poll, New Zealanders found Dotcom more favorable than Auckland Mayor John Banks. In a 2013 poll, more New Zelanders wanted Dotcom to stay in New Zealand rather than be extradited to the United States. This illustrates how reputation can sway public opinion in ethically vague situations.
Ever since his childhood, Dotcom has defied authority. With Megaupload, Dotcom defied copyright norms, believing he helped the greater good. Commenting on the Megaupload takedown, Dotcom asserted:
"In the dark ages... the enemies of progress burned books."
Dotcom spins the situation so he looks like the victim: the people hindering his success are hindering progress and want to keep the world in the "Dark Ages." Throughout the Megaupload takedown scandal, Dotcom vehemently denied any wrongdoing:
"The allegations against us are wrong, we are innocent and we will prevail."
Dotcom does not acknowledge that he is breaking the law, clashing with the belief that professionals who break the law do so knowingly and are more concerned about their career than going to jail. This illustrates how one can be defiant, but in an unprofessional manner. In regards to professionalism, Dotcom's practices of defiance are more inline with Bruce Reynolds, a bugler defying law for personal wealth, than with Philippe Petit, a daredevil who defied law for personal happiness.
Honor vs. Honors
Dotcom believes his wealth is just a side effect of engineering a good solution:
"...when you create a solution, you’re an innovator and you solve problems for people and they like what you have to offer, of course you automatically make money."
However, upon moving his business to Hong Kong, Dotcom stated:
"People there leave you alone and they are happy for your success."
"More ambitious people identify happiness with honor or acclaim. But honor is superficial if it depends more on those who bestow it rather than on those who receive it."
This indicates that people who associate happiness with material benefits are not acting professionally. Dotcom, who enjoys lavish vacations, flamboyant productions, and excessive wealth, might fall in this category.
Professionalism of Other Participants
The Government Communication Security Bureau (GCSB) and New Zealand Police monitored and spied on the employees of Megaupload at request of the FBI leading up to Dotcom's arrest. The agency has a strict rule barring spying on New Zealand residents, making the surveillance of Dotcom illegal. When confronted in court, the GCSB claimed that the police deliberately lied to them, guaranteeing that Dotcom was not a permanent resident of New Zealand. This prompted further investigation, uncovering that the agency was spying on over 80 more New Zealand residents. Similarly, the NSA, the equivalent agency in the United States, has been scrutinized for questionable surveillance methods against United States citizens, as in the AT&T and Trailblazer cases. The GCSB repetitively denied involvement with the United States in the arrest and testified in court accordingly. It was revealed, however, that they had actually relayed live footage of raid to FBI Headquarters, contradicting earlier testimony.
It is clear that the GCSB and the police tried to do everything they could—both legally and illegally—to detain Dotcom. These two groups tarnished their image and compromised their integrity by claiming the ends justify the means. This resulted in having a weak case against Dotcom and a permanent mark against their credibility. Repeated professional failures by the police and GCSB have fueled media criticism and mockery, as seen in many political cartoons ridiculing the agencies as incompetent and foolish.
New Zealand High Court
The High Court of New Zealand denied bail to Dotcom because he could have easily fled and escaped extradition to the US. It then returned assets to Dotcom so that he could provide for his family and keep his affairs in order. It ruled the search warrants used in the raid were invalid because they were general search warrants, lacking the specificity required for what was seized. As a result, all data was obtained illegally and the FBI would be unable to access it for prosecution in the States. Finally, the High Court ruled that Dotcom could sue the GCSB for damages because the agency's director knew they were illegally spying on Dotcom.
The High Court remained professional and impartial. While it would have been easier to preserve the image of the New Zealand government and agencies by upholding the search warrants, the Court invalidated the warrants, preventing anything gathered by the national agencies to be used as evidence. By taking this course of action, the High Court has likely guaranteed Dotcom's legal victory, but did not compromise their integrity. The High Court cared more about upholding justice than bringing down a suspected criminal. The same political cartoons that mock the GCSB and police praise the High Court for righting all the wrongs done by the other New Zealand agencies. While the police and the GCSB were doing their best to dig a deeper hole for themselves, the High Court wasn't afraid to challenge their judgment.
While Dotcom thought he provided a technical solution benefiting the greater good, it is still vague whether he did everything in his power to prevent illegal activity on Megaupload. Dotcom's practices of exercising defiance, chasing honors, and exploiting reputation indicate that Dotcom could potentially not be classified as a professional. Other participants, including the New Zealand Police and GCSB, believed the ends justified the means, making questionable ethical calls involved in Megaupload's takedown. However, others like the High Court of New Zealand exercised impartial ethical judgment.
The legal case of Kim Dotcom and Megaupload is still being decided in court. This chapter deserves a thorough revision and expansion as more facts and court decisions become available. The potential for legal action against Mega, Dotcom's latest site, will also offer content for the continuation of this saga, along with attempts to introduce legislation attacking or protecting services like Megaupload.
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- Aristotle. "Nicomachean Ethics." Abridged and freely adapted from translations in the public domain, especially that of W.D. Ross (1908)
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