A New Zealand judge on Thursday upheld a lower court’s decision to give MegaUpload creator Kim Dotcom access to the U.S. government’s evidence against him, enabling the man accused of running the largest criminal copyright operation in history to mount a proper defense at an extradition hearing set for March.
In her ruling, New Zealand Chief High Court Justice Helen Winkelmann explained that requiring the Federal Bureau of Investigation to present evidence to back up their claims was only “fair.”
“Without access to materials relevant to the extradition hearing phase, the person sought will be significantly constrained in his or her ability to participate in the hearing,” she wrote, adding that the U.S. government’s preference for nondisclosure would have given its attorneys “a significant advantage.” Since extradition hearings are “essentially criminal in character,” she felt an evidentiary requirement is appropriate in this case.
The same judge ruled in May that the police warrant used to raid Dotcom’s mansion in January and seize his property and assets was invalid because it was filed improperly and amended after the fact to include evidence sought in the military-style operation.
U.S. authorities maintain that Dotcom’s website, a cyber locker service that provided online storage space to more than 150 million users, was entirely built off ill-gotten gains made by illegally copying and distributing movies, music and software.
The site’s administrators, however, contend that they cannot possibly be held responsible for what users uploaded and point to a content removal tool they created, saying they happily carried out take-down requests when copyright holders submitted them.
Dotcom also claims MegaUpload was preparing for what it hoped to be a “multi-billion dollar” initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange — something purely criminal enterprises typically don’t pursue — and readying a disruptive music sharing service called “MegaBox” that would have enabled artists to make money off free downloads.
Of course, if the FBI decides they’d rather just skip it all, Dotcom has offered to extradite himself provided they restore his financial assets and enable him to mount a full-throated defense in open court. He and fellow defendants face up to 25 years in jail over charges that they ran the largest criminal copyright violation scheme in history.