A district court in New Zealand has ruled that Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and three colleagues can be extradited to the U.S. to face copyright infringement and other charges.
His legal team said soon after the order by Judge Nevin Dawson in Auckland that it looked forward to a review of the U.S. request for extradition by a High Court. Megaupload counsel Ira Rothken wrote in a tweet that the decision rendered the New Zealand "ISP criminal copyright safe harbor illusory."
The case dates back to January 2012, when Dotcom and colleagues and two companies including the file-sharing site Megaupload, were indicted by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.
They were charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement and money laundering, and two substantive counts of criminal copyright infringement.
The "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" produced by the U.S. establishes a "prima facie case to answer" for Dotcom and his colleagues on each of the counts, and the court finds them eligible for surrender on all 13 counts in the indictment filed in the U.S. court, Judge Dawson wrote in his 271-page order on Wednesday.
The shut-down of the Megaupload website evoked an online storm of protest in the U.S. and other countries, with the Anonymous group of hackers claiming responsibility for attacks on websites, including those run by the U.S. Department of Justice, Universal Music and the Recording Industry Association of America. Some critics of the government action accused it of going after Dotcom with determination at the behest of the music industry.
In a dramatic raid in which a helicopter was used, New Zealand police swooped on the homes of Dotcom and an associate Bram van der Kolk. Dotcom and three other associates were arrested but later released on bail.
Dotcom and associates each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the racketeering charge, five years on the charge of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, 20 years in prison on the money laundering charge and five years on each of the substantive charges of criminal copyright infringement, the DOJ said in 2012.
The DOJ charged Dotcom and associates with a conspiracy that operated websites that illegally reproduced and distributed infringing copies of copyrighted works, including movies often before their theatrical release, leading to losses of over US$500 million to copyright holders.
Dotcom has held that he was running a cloud storage firm like any other, and had made efforts to remove infringing content.
Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, wrote in an expert opinion to the court that the DOJ had failed to prove a case of direct civil or criminal copyright infringement. Dotcom also faces a civil suit from six major U.S. movie studios for alleged copyright infringements.
Minister of Justice and Courts Amy Adams, who will take a decision on whether the extradition should go ahead, has declined to comment, citing the possible appeal of the order in the High Court, according to reports.