Come on, guys, I am a computer nerd. I love Hollywood and movies. My whole life is like a movie.
That’s Kim Dotcom in an “open letter” to Hollywood that he penned last week. Dotcom is the owner and CEO of Megaupload and is currently facing federal criminal charges, along with six other individuals, for allegedly operating a “mega-conspiracy” that made him a very wealthy man using other people’s work without permission.
Since his indictment and arrest, Dotcom has been waging a PR campaign to cast himself, not as an opportunistic hack who exploited thousands of creators through his spammy, scammy website, but as some sort of internet freedom fighter — in his latest “music video”, he portrays himself as no less than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Strangely, in the topsy-turvey world of the internet, Dotcom’s efforts appear to be working.
You can fool some of the people all of the time
The weirdest part of this story is that it is part of Dotcom’s modus operandi. For over two decades, he has portrayed himself as some sort of master hacker, or savvy businessman, or whatever else would garner the most press, no matter how far from the truth.
Here, for example, is his take on his first brush with the law in the early nineties:
By chance in 1993, Schmitz discovered a computer account that included the word “Pentagon”. “I connected to the computer, made myself a super-user on it and after five or six hours had access to 100 computers within the Pentagon. I found the main router and so could ‘sniff’ all the traffic and jump from computer to computer. Some had real-time connections with satellites that were taking photographs of [Saddam] Hussein’s palace – I had no idea that technology even existed. It was like Ali Baba finding the treasure cave.”
If you think this sounds more like Hollywood Hacking than real life, you’d be correct. Dotcom also claimed he “got into Citibank’s system and transferred $20 million (21.4 million euros) by taking tiny amounts from the accounts of 4 million customers and giving it to Greenpeace” around the same time period. This isn’t just like a movie, it is a movie — the 1992 film Sneakers, to be exact.
The truth? Dotcom was convicted in 1998 on multiple counts of computer fraud and data espionage. Court records don’t substantiate any of Dotcom’s amazing claims.
What he did do was steal phone calling card codes and conduct a premium number fraud similar to the recent rash of Filipino phreaking frauds. He bought stolen phone card account information from American hackers. After setting up premium toll chat lines in Hong Kong and in the Caribbean, he used a “war dialer” program to call the lines using the stolen card numbers—ringing up €61,000 in ill-gained profits.
If anything good could be said about Dotcom’s latest media blitz, it’s that he at least is picking better historical figures to compare himself to. From a 2001 interview:
Wasn’t Hitler writing Mein Kampf while being arrested? Not that I like Hitler hehe, it’s just that strange people can have strange ideas while being arrested.
Dotcom would next reinvent himself as a shrewd businessman-slash-entrepreneur. In 2001, he was claiming to the press that his net worth was $100 million, and his investment company would soon be making $553 million a year. Here, again, the reality was far less glamorous than Dotcom suggested.
A German court would hear later that he had pulled a textbook “pump-and-dump” move, borrowing money to buy Letsbuyit shares, and then quickly selling them to those who swallowed his investment story, gaining himself a quick profit of 1.1 million euros ($1.4 million).
But before facing justice, Dotcom was busy writing Act 2.
In the movies, whenever a protagonist gets away with a big heist, we invariably see him passing safely through customs in the Caribbean or southeast Asia as the credits begin to roll.
Perhaps this hackneyed Hollywood device was on Kim Schmitz’s mind when he chose Thailand as his hideout from German authorities curious about his KimVestor Ponzi scheme.
Add “bizarre” to the list of adjectives that could be used to describe Dotcom. As it turns out, prior to his arrest in Thailand, he had changed his website to announce that he would be livestreaming his own suicide. Said the site:
Enough is Enough. Kim Schmitz will die next Monday. See it on this website live and for free. When the countdown is over, Kim steps into a new world and wants you to see it.
But he would be arrested the Friday before. As the Guardian reported:
This proved to be a publicity stunt and visitors to the site are now informed that Schmitz wishes to be known as “King Kimble the First – Ruler of the Kimpire”.
A Kim For All Seasons
Schmitz’s claims follow a pattern. He takes bits of what he has been found guilty of, bits of other hackers’ publicised doings, even tales of hacker movies, and mixes them together to form his “personae”.
“A con man par excellence.”
“He was trying to make half a buck on every occasion.”
“On his way up, he fooled them all: judges, journalists, investors and companies.”
“Everything that entwines itself around Mr. Schmitz is, to say the least, somewhat dubious.”
Over the past 20 years, Dotcom has worked hard to portray his life like a movie, seeing himself as, perhaps, a super-hacker from Sneakers, or the innocent man on the run from The Fugitive (Dotcom’s nickname “Kimble” is said to be derived from Dr. Richard Kimble, the lead character in that show/movie).
But it seems to us that the closest one can come to the movie that Dotcom has created of his life is A Burns for All Seasons, the fictional movie created by Mr. Burns in the animated series The Simpsons. In the film, the unapolagetic plutocrat portrays himself, in three separate scenes, as an outsourcing champion, the alien E.T., and Jesus Christ.
That there are those who buy into Dotcom’s latest self-cast role as champion of internet freedom and innovation is sad commentary. Dotcom’s “mega-empire” made him millions of dollars off the work of thousands of creators. There’s nothing innovative about exploiting artists. If this were really a Hollywood movie, the happy ending would see Dotcom finally facing justice.