In case you missed it, Kim Dotcom is a rich, grossly overweight German national, usually dressed in black, with a long criminal record, who has been making his money by enabling people to steal movies and music on the Internet. He was arrested at his lavish New Zealand home last weekend and charged with Internet piracy in one of the largest criminal copyright cases ever brought.
The arrest of Mr. Dotcom, born Kim Schmitz, came in the midst of a furious uprising by much of the Internet industry and millions of frightened individuals against proposed laws to curb Internet privacy. They feared the legislation could open the way for prosecution of legitimate Internet operations.
What amounted to an Internet revolution drew millions of individuals into a massive online protest against two bills, SOPA and PIPA, short respectively for the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act. Wikipedia went blank for a day, showing only a long explanation of its opposition when users logged onto the site. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid canceled the scheduled hearing on the Senate version of the legislation “in light of recent events.” But he insisted that the problem must be dealt with. He said counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year.
What the sudden arrest of the flamboyant Mr. Dotcom accomplished was to distract public attention from the spectacular opposition campaign and focus it on piracy as an issue by zeroing in on a kingpin. His garage held at least 18 luxury cars, including a 1959 pink Cadillac and a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe. One of his license plates said “God” on it. His Hong Kong-based Megaupload website, which officials have closed down, offered for download movies, music, television shows and books, many of them illegally copied, according to authorities. Police seized about $50 million in assets as well as electronic equipment, art and the luxury automobiles.
Many file-sharing sites are legitimate. Some, such as YouSendIt, are used by business firms as a means of sending documents back and forth for consideration and signing. Others, such as Box, are file-storage companies that take down copyright violations when reported.
A peaceful solution looks possible. Apple reached an agreement with music suppliers in 2009, as told in the Steve Jobs biography. Apple removed anti-copying restrictions on songs in its iTunes Store and stopped requiring that all must be sold at 99 cents. In return, major music companies began selling tunes through the Apple store at varying prices.
Similar give and take should enable Hollywood and Silicon Valley to agree on legislation that would stem the traffic in pirated movies without jeopardizing legitimate file sharing.