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Why the American government has only itself to blame for Kim Dotcom’s celebrity status

Published Jan 22nd, 2013 11:15PM EST
Kim Dotcom Case

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Kim Dotcom isn’t the world’s most likely celebrity — a German born New Zealander who had been best known for running a website called Megaupload that was used primarily by people looking to share large files with one another and that wasn’t on the radar of the average Internet user. But as ZDNet’s Jack Schofield notes, the American government’s heavy-handedness, along with Dotcom’s own keen media savvy, have both conspired to make Dotcom into a media sensation who has now attracted more than 1 million users to his new Mega website in just one day.

Dotcom’s media savvy is self-explanatory: Tech reporters and bloggers who are tired of listening to corporate PR-speak and who are starved for colorful quotes love writing about Dotcom’s zany antics. Whether he’s releasing anti-Obama rap videos or taunting his adversaries while starring as “Santa Dotcom” in parodic Christmas pageants, Dotcom knows how amuse people and make headlines.

But none of these stunts would garner such attention if the FBI hadn’t helped New Zealand’s elite counterterrorism unit plan a raid Dotcom’s mansion while simultaneously making bizarre accusations that Dotcom had a “doomsday device” that was capable of wiping out all evidence of Internet piracy with the flick of a switch. These excessive actions have now become major publicity headaches for New Zealand’s government, Schofield writes, especially since “New Zealand judge Helen Winkelmann ruled that the police had acted illegally because its warrants — presumably constructed at the behest of the FBI agents — were too broad to be considered reasonable. ”

Such mistakes have given Dotcom months of free publicity  to both paint himself as the victim of overzealous police action and to promote his followup to Megaupload, which he just happened to launch on the one-year anniversary of the raid on his mansion. Put simply, it seems as though American officials’ decision to make an example of Dotcom has backfired spectacularly, making him into a folk hero for Internet activists who believe that our current copyright laws are overly favorable copyright holders and restrict creative freedom.

“Whatever Hollywood may think, Kim Dotcom is a showman and joker, not the new Osama bin Laden,” writes Schofield. “Giving him the same sort of ‘helicopters out of the sky’ treatment has been counter-productive. It has simply given a man who used to live in quiet obscurity a global stage. Sunday’s Mega launch — which became a huge media event — showed that he can and will exploit it.”

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.