Last night, CBS news magazine 60 Minutes aired a segment featuring the flamboyant internet pirate Kim Dotcom (Kim Schmitz), whose Megaupload cyberlocker site was taken down in early 2012 after a dramatic raid on his luxury compound in New Zealand. Charged with contributing to, inciting, and profiting from mass copyright infringement as well as related charges of racketeering and money laundering, Dotcom, a German, remains under mansion arrest in his adopted country hoping to avoid extradition to the United States, where he would stand trial.
If you only understood half of what I just said, (e.g. what’s a cyberlocker?), you’re not alone. Not only do I believe relatively few Americans have ever heard of Kim Dotcom or necessarily know what he did, it’s likely that an even smaller set of those who have heard of the man are at this moment particularly concerned about his fate — this despite Kim’s efforts to cast himself in the role of Robin Hood to the MPAA’s Sheriff of Nottingham. Fortunately, this particular message isn’t really flying with just about anybody other than those one might call internet extremists, and I was pleased that CBS’s Bob Simon did not provide Dotcom a soapbox for his bogus ideological prattling. That said, that’s about as much credit I can give to the segment, which was a bit of a puff piece, to be honest.
While Simon did push back at Dotcom for his claims to be “just a businessman,” he did let slide the oft-repeated argument Kim has made that it’s not his responsibility who uploads what to his site. For one thing, Simon might have pointed to the fact that the charges against him include incitement to promote mass infringement by offering Megaupload users money and other forms of compensation specifically for uploading highly-popular filmed entertainment and music. Even if this weren’t true, though, Dotcom is effectively asking people to believe he was siting there in New Zealand just minding his own business thinking (read with German accent), “I haff no idea ver zees millions of dollars are coming from! Please tell somebody ziss is not my fault! I do not mean to be making all ziss money!” Yeah, but really, that’s what he’s saying, and Bob Simon could have jabbed a little harder at the assertion that Dotcom didn’t know what he was doing.
Instead, the segment did include just enough time touring Kim Dotcom’s luxury compound that CBS can probably share the footage with MTV for a Cribs episode (is that still on?). I get why having Schmitz on the show might have attracted eyeballs, but overall the journalism felt mailed in, particularly in light of the fact that the 60 Minutes demographic probably skews toward an audience that doesn’t really know much about the issue of piracy or how it works. Simon didn’t do much in the way of providing context for the viewer or explain the nature of the charges against Dotcom. Even the segment title “Hollywood’s Villain” is a bit glib and careless, considering the issue of internet piracy goes well beyond a feud between a couple of movie studios and one man. In fact, one might have thought Dotcom suggested the title himself since his latest spiel is that Hollywood and the USDOJ singled him out just because his lavish, super-villain-like persona make him such an “attractive target.” Granted, as my friend said, “He’s like Auric Goldfinger without the class,” but I don’t think anyone sane believes for a moment that’s why he’s under indictment. Thus, even the few minutes in the segment devoted to examining this proposition, while entertaining, was a waste of time that could have been spent addressing some of the facts in the case.
There are interesting people in the world doing some extraordinary things with technology, some who even propose to address numerous challenges faced by millions just in their daily struggle to survive. Against this backdrop, 60 Minutes has to work a little harder to make a guy seem interesting because he got rich by enabling already-privileged kids to watch Transformers: Dark of the Moon for free.