A hearing is under way in New Zealand to decide if German tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom can be extradited to the US to be tried on copyright infringement charges. The case has possible implications for Internet freedom.
A long-awaited court hearing began on Monday in the northern New Zealand city of Auckland to determine whether Kim Dotcom and three ex-colleagues can be extradited to the United States on copyright charges related to the Internet mogul's former online storage site Megaupload.
The hearing, which has been postponed 10 times, comes four years after Dotcom, who was born in Germany under the name Kim Schmitz, was arrested by police at his Auckland mansion.
US authorities want to try Dotcom and ex-Megaupload executives Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk on a range of charges including copyright infringement, racketeering and mony laundering.
They say that Megaupload, which was once used by millions of people to store files and download music and movies, took in more than $175 million (154.6 million euros) in criminally earned proceeds and cost copyright owners more than $500 million by offering pirated films, music and software.
The site was shut down in by US federal authorities in 2012, and prosecutors froze tens of millions of dollars in accounts in Hong Kong and New Zealand.
Dotcom, 41, insists that he is a legitimate Internet entrepreneur who is being pursued by Washington at the behest of the US entertainment industry.
"The judges on this case can become the champions for billions of Internet users or a handful of US content billionaires," he tweeted, also saying that the case could impact on Internet freedom.
He also says that he cannot be held responsible for people who used Megaupload illegally.
His lawyers will argue that copyright theft charges represent a civil offense that would not warrant extradition from New Zealand.
US prosecutors do not need to prove the guilt of Dotcom and his co-accused at the hearing, but only show that the four men have a case to answer, known as a prima facie case.
Whatever decision is made during the current court hearing, which is expected to take up to three weeks, the losing side is likely to appeal and start another bout of legal wrangling, meaning that even if Dotcom is extradited, his US trial might not take place for months or even years.
If the court decides against the delay proposed by Dotcom's legal team, the hearing will resume on Thursday after two rest days.
The case could affect other popular websites such as YouTube and Google that collect and distribute content made by others.
tj/ rg (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)