Recent news stories have featured the arrest of Kim Schmitz, a.k.a. Kim Dotcom. His illegal download-facilitation company, Megaupload, has helped defraud artists and copyright holders of at least hundreds of millions of dollars. I am a published author, and I appreciate the very, very modest income stream I get from that. So, scammers like Dotcom turn my stomach. They produce nothing and make money by helping others obtain copyrighted materials for free. This is antisocial behavior. It feels like the kind of thing for which we would reprimand a six year old: “It’s wrong to take things that don’t belong to you, Jimmy.” Apparently, “Dotcom” never learned this lesson.
He once joked that he was not a pirate, but simply provided shipping services for those engaged in piracy. I like to think that I have some insight into this man’s psyche because in my work I regularly encounter self-centered, neurotic, and antisocial computer and video game addicts. They are mostly young men who dream of being able to while away their days plugged in to their video game interface and not have to worry about making a living, or developing the social skills that would allow them to have successful personal and professional lives. Several young men who attend my cyber addiction groups sympathize with “Dotcom” and think he is being mistreated by the U.S. Government. He has a $35 million dollar mansion with dozens of video game consoles and tricked-out easy chairs all through it. He lives in a video game paradise, complete with hot women, decadent food, and frequent parties. Of course young men without jobs, or underemployed, who live in their parents’ basement idolize this overweight, self-indulgent, socially abrasive video gamer. While his enormous wealth and his championing of so-called “Internet freedom” seem worthy of respect, a deeper look at his life will hopefully disabuse his admirers of their misplaced veneration.
As a teenager, Dotcom earned a reputation in his native Germany for cracking corporate PBX systems in the United States, and tried to parlay it into a career in data security. That effort led to his arrest on charges of using and selling stolen calling card numbers. In 1998, Dotcom was sentenced to a probationary sentence of two years for computer fraud and handling stolen goods. According to a report by News Record, he had traded stolen calling card numbers he bought from hackers in the United States. In January 2002, Dotcom was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, deported to Germany, and sentenced to a probationary sentence of one year and eight months, and a €100,000 fine, the largest insider-trading case in Germany at the time. Dotcom also pleaded guilty to embezzlement in November 2003 and received a two-year probation sentence. There are numerous other examples of his early transgressions, but clearly these instances paint a picture of a man who does not like to do honest work for a living, and who spent countless hours playing video games—he was a top rated in the world for Call of Duty. Rather, he likes to scam.
He certainly trumpets “Internet Freedom” but only because he has found a way to easily use the Internet to facilitate crime, for which he had heretofore engaged in with impunity. This man is a serial criminal who shows no signs of letting up. What is the alternative to arresting him? Letting him continue to defraud more artists and creators?
Kim Schmitz and his cadre of fellow hackers are highly intelligent people. I only wish that more of them could use their talents to really help humanity. We need cyber geniuses to solve many of today’s problems. Cyber adepts have recently been doing this with a “game” called FoldIt which allows players to help scientists help find cures for diseases, like HIV. The world is moving inexorably in the direction of people like Kim Schmitz. We have to watch out for this type of genius who is often misunderstood, even maligned, in school. We must nurture this vast powerhouse of potential by making sure that these folks do not get swallowed up by the cyber world. We must encourage empathy, connection, and compassion. I have a lot of ideas about how to do that, but I would like you to share some ideas of your own. Please join the discussion by posting a comment.