In an attempt to derail Internet piracy, seven individuals and two corporations were charged by an Eastern District of Virginia grand jury with running an international organized crime enterprise.
The affiliated corporations, Megaupload Limited and Vestor Limited, were allegedly responsible for massive worldwide online piracy of copyrighted works, many of which traveled through servers in Ashburn.
According to court documents, the conspirators’ content hosting site, Megaupload.com, advertised itself as having more than one billion visits to the site with more than 150 million users registered and 50 million daily visitors–accounting for 4 percent of the total traffic on the Internet.
The corporations earned more than $175 million in illegal profits through advertising revenue and premium memberships, U.S. lawyers say.
The Jan. 5 grand jury action is among the most landmark copyright cases ever brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The seven men were charged with engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, conspiring to commit copyright infringement, conspiring to commit money laundering and two counts of criminal copyright infringement.
These charges together hold upwards of a 60-year maximum prison sentence. According to the indictment, Kim Dotcom (also known as Kim Schmitz and Kim Tim Jim Vestor), 37, led the group.
Dotcom is a resident of both Hong Kong and New Zealand and founded Megaupload Limited. He is also the director and sole shareholder of Vestor Limited, which he allegedly has used to hold ownership interests in affiliated sites.
Six other men were charged. Finn Batato, 38, is a citizen of Germany and is the organization’s chief marketing officer. Juilus Bencko, 35, of Slovakia, is the graphic designer. Sven Echternach, 39, of Germany, is head of business development. Mathias Ortmann, 40, also of Germany, is the chief technical officer, co-founder and director. Andrus Nomm, 32, of Estonia, is the software programmer and Bram “Bramos” van der Kolk, 29, of the Netherlands, oversees programming.
New Zealand authorities arrested Dotcom, Batato, Ortmann and van der Kolk in Auckland, New Zealand using provisional arrests warrants requested by the U.S.
Benco, Echternach and Namm remain at large. U.S. law enforcement also executed more than 20 search warrants in the U.S. and eight additional countries, seizing nearly $50 million in assets and targeting Megaupload server sites in Ashburn, Washington, D.C., the Netherlands and Canada. Additionally, 18 domain names associated with the conspiracy were also seized.
According to court documents, prosecutors claim that the conspirators conducted an illegal operation using a company model designed to promote uploading popular copyrighted works for millions to download. The site was set up to automatically delete content that was not regularly downloaded, and offered a rewards program that provided users with financial incentives to risk uploading popular content and driving traffic to the site.
The U.S. Department of Justice released information surrounding the charges on Jan. 19, during a time when two anti-piracy and censorship bills coming to vote in February have been the popular discussion.
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