Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom’s attempts to get back into business outside the reaches of US officials have taken a hit. The African country of Gabon has cancelled his registration of a new domain name and appear to have handed it over to critics.
Dotcom is currently in New Zealand fighting extradition to the US over the Megaupload site. Prosecutors there accuse him of violating copyright laws in two ways: by paying bonuses to uploaders of popular files despite knowing such files are virtually guaranteed to be pirated material, and by telling copyright holders the site would delete copyrighted material but actually only deleting individual links and leaving the files online. Dotcom says neither activity breaches the law.
He recently announced plans to launch a new file hosting site where all equipment such as servers would be in countries outside of US control and where all files would be encrypted such that Dotcom and company would have no physical way of knowing if the content breached copyright. He said he’d be prepared to allow copyright holders to directly delete illegal files, but only if they were prepared to indemnify the site against legal action. The new service was scheduled to launch on January 19.
One of the keys to the new service, known simply as Mega, was using a domain name that wasn’t at the mercy of US courts such as the megaupload.com. He decided the simplest and most memorable approach was to get his hands on the address me.ga, taking advantage of the country code for Gabon. (Oddly he didn’t go on to change his name to Kim Dotga.) It appears a French resident had previously registered the address and passed it on to Dotcom in an undisclosed deal.
That plan has now backfired. Gabon’s communication minister says he has ordered the immediate suspension of the domain name, explaining that “Gabon cannot serve as a platform or screen for committing acts aimed at violating copyrights, not be used by unscrupulous people.” There’s no clear evidence yet that Gabon came under any international pressure rather than making the decision independently.
At the time of writing, me.ga was redirecting to a Twitter account with few details other than the name “onymous” and a series of posts that appeared to be parodying groups such as Anonymous and Dotcom himself. Gabon’s domain register isn’t currently publicly available, so it’s hard to tell if this other group has been exceedingly quick off the mark in re-registering the address, or if it has carried out some form of hacking.
Dotcom himself says he isn’t thrown by the move and has a back-up domain in place, though isn’t saying what it is.