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Putting the right price on Megaupload chief Kim Dotcom's release

February 27, 2012 | 12:20 pm

Kim Dotcom out on bail
A week after a judge in New Zealand finally allowed Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom out on bail, U.S. prosecutors are still trying to keep the accused criminal copyright infringer behind bars. The New Zealand government heads to court Monday to appeal Dotcom's Feb. 22 release, arguing on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice that the multimillionaire may try to disappear instead of facing trial.

Let's pause for a moment while you come up with your own joke about how someone as, umm, large as Dotcom could slip through the government's fingers. Extra points for including the line "the round mound of remand."

I'm no fan of Megaupload, and the indictment lays out a plausible case that Dotcom and other company executives were engaged in a conspiracy to promote copyright infringement on a massive scale for their own enrichment. It's just an allegation at this point, however, and we in the United States like to say that we believe people are innocent until proved guilty. The same notion holds sway in New Zealand.

That principle doesn't preclude holding people without bail if they pose a demonstrable risk to society or there's a real chance they won't show up for trial. But the latter consideration is why courts have the power to set conditions on bail. In Dotcom's case, his assets have been frozen and a home he owns in New Zealand stands as collateral for his $4.3-million bail. If he skips trial, he loses the home and, most likely, those assets.

Although prosecutors say they're afraid Dotcom has hidden assets, the New Zealand judge who granted him bail (after almost a month behind bars) said authorities have looked and found nothing of consequence. Besides, prosecutors are paid to advocate on behalf of only one side of the case at this point -- the side that wants to convict Dotcom. Nevertheless, it undermines their credibility when they seek the same kind of treatment for an accused copyright infringer as they would for a suspected serial killer.

If fleeing would cost Dotcom all of his known assets, that seems like a sufficient deterrent. After all, aside from jail time, that's as large a penalty as prosecutors could hope to obtain at trial. 

By the way, Dotcom argues that Megaupload stayed within the bounds of copyright law. His lawyers also contend that he won't flee because he has three children and a pregnant wife in New Zealand.


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Photo: Megaupload chief Kim Dotcom speaks to the media shortly after being granted bail. Credit:  Brett Phibbs / New Zealand Herald/AP

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