Largely painted by U.S. media in the aftermath of his January arrest as a childish, self-indulgent, gun-toting oaf, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom gets a surprisingly comprehensive and nuanced overview in an industry trade serving a not-so-sympathetic constituency, The Hollywood Reporter.
In the magazine’s 5,700 cover story titled “The Nerd Who Burned Hollywood” this week, writers Daniel Miller and Matthew Belloni talk to the German entrepreneur’s lawyers, friends and business associates (they were unable to get access to the subject himself), revealing Dotcom to actually be more of a Steve Jobs wannabe than self-described “Dr. Evil” of the hacking world.
“He basically sums up the piracy debate that has only grown in the aftermath of the failure of the SOPA and PIPA legislation,” said Belloni, who told paidContent in an email Wednesday that he and Miller spent about two months working on the project.
“To Hollywood, those pictures of Dotcom traveling the world in yachts and racing supercars and partying with models were the equivalent of flipping a middle finger at content owners. But online, and especially in the file-sharing community, he was a god,” Belloni added.
“We tried for months to get him on the phone (we even offered to go to New Zealand) but his lawyers wouldn’t allow him to talk to us. We did get the lawyers, though. What surprised me about reporting the piece was that it seems Dotcom’s ultimate goal was to become a so-called ‘legit’ media mogul. He wanted to be Steve Jobs, and he certainly didn’t think of himself as a pirate. It will be very interesting to see how this case plays out.æ
Here are a few interesting tidbits from the story:
— Belying the bellicose alter-ego, Dotcom’s friends and associates describe him as a ” fun-loving father of five whose appetite for fast cars and booze is matched by sharp intelligence and lofty business aspirations that fall more in line with, say, YouTube founders (and one-time alleged infringers) Chad Hurley and Steve Chen than a pirate flaunting copyright law from a beach in St.-Tropez.”
The Reporter quotes reality TV producer Ziad Batal, who tried to develop a series with Dotcom as star: “His plan was to create a more artist-friendly distribution platform where the creators would get paid more than what they do when Apple sells their product … He’s extremely smart, extremely driven. I think Hollywood can negotiate with someone like this. You don’t put a guy like this behind bars; you say, ‘This is what we need to work together.’ ”
— Ira Rothken, one of Dotcom’s U.S.-based attorneys, told the Reporter that he believes his client’s arrest stems from the Obama Administration’s desire to do Hollywood a solid after the president failed to stop anti-piracy bill SOPA from getting killed in Congress.
“[Dotcom] innovated in a way that brought unfair attention from Hollywood,” Rothken told the trade.
— Anthony Falzone, a lecturer at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, told the Reporter that by extending the boundaries of U.S. copyright law beyond the civil penalties levied in the past against operators like Napster and Grokster and into the criminal realm, the Dotcom case could ultimately stifle innovation.
Should the U.S. government successfully establish precedent, Falzone said, social photograph-sharing platform Pinterest, for example, could be viewed as a tool for illegally distributing copyrighted material. “It creates tremendous risk if your platform is used for the wrong reasons,” he noted.
— Not all of Dotcom’s media persona is unearned. Maximillion Cooper, CEO of the Gumball 3000 road race, which Dotcom has won in the past, describes a 2001 trip to the south of France on a 264-foot yacht, the Golden Odyssey, that features a mosaic-tiled swimming pool, gym and coral-reef aquarium. At one point, Cooper said, Dotcom spent around $100,000 to treat his bodyguards and “huge entourage” to a lunch of champagne and lobster, paying for it all with “suitcases of cash arriving by boat.”
–Having hired a legal team featuring digital-rights expert Andrew Schapiro, the Reporter notes that New Zealand courts have already backed down on a number of initial bail restrictions, such Dotcom’s ability to use the internet, swim in a nearby pool and visit a music studio to continue producing a hip-hop record. Allegations have already been made that both New Zealand and American authorities have botched paperwork in the case.
— Whether he’s convicted or not, the Reporter spoke to peers who believe the oft-prosecuted Dotcom will re-emerge somehow in the tech world. “He’s been able to figure how to aggregate large audiences, and for me, that is of the utmost importance in this business, to be able to connect with the consumer,” said Logan Mulvey, head of video-on-demand distribution company GoDigital. “He may have done it in an illegal way, but he was still able to do it.”