Chris Cameron / Reuters

New Zealand judge rules Kim Dotcom eligible for extradition to US

Megaupload founder is wanted on criminal copyright infringement charges in a closely watched case

A New Zealand judge has ruled that Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and three of his colleagues can be extradited to the United States to face criminal copyright charges.

Dotcom's lawyers said they will appeal the decision.

Judge Nevin Dawson's ruling on Wednesday comes nearly four years after U.S. authorities shut down Dotcom's Megaupload website, which some visitors had used to illegally download songs and movies.

Dawson did not need to determine whether Dotcom and his co-accused are guilty of any crimes, only whether there is a strong enough case to warrant extraditing them to the U.S. to stand trial there.

The U.S. has charged the men with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, racketeering and money laundering. If found guilty, they could face decades in jail.

The case could have broader implications for Internet copyright rules and is being watched closely by the media industry and developers in the file-sharing business for signs of how far the U.S. government is willing to go to protect American copyright holders.

Dotcom's lawyer Ron Mansfield said earlier that if the U.S. side prevails, websites from YouTube to Facebook would need to more carefully police their content.

U.S. authorities say Dotcom and the three other Megaupload executives cost film studios and record companies more than $500 million and generated more than $175 million by encouraging paying users to store and share copyrighted material, such as movies and TV shows.

Dotcom claims that the U.S. government is pursuing him at the request of the U.S. entertainment industry and says the case could set a precedent that affects all Internet users.

His lawyers argued in a 2013 position paper that copyright theft is usually treated as a civil offense that would not warrant extradition from New Zealand. They said the inclusion of serious criminal charges, which would normally be leveled only against gangsters, showed a "gunslinger attitude" by prosecutors.

Wire services

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