Flamboyant German tech entrepreneur Kim Dotcom appeared in a New Zealand court on Monday, after nearly four years of legal wrangling, at a hearing to determine whether he will face copyright infringement and other charges in the United States.
The case will decide whether Dotcom, the founder of file-sharing website Megaupload, and three other executives can be extradited to the U.S. Other charges include racketeering and money laundering.
"This case is not just about me. This case is about how much control we allow U.S. corporations and the U.S. government to have over the Internet," Dotcom tweeted before the hearing began.
He entered the courtroom wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, his Mercedes SUV, with a license plate reading "KIM.COM," parked outside.
Dozens of black-clad police, working in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, rappelled into Dotcom's New Zealand mansion in 2012. Years of legal wrangling ensued.
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.
"The judges on this case can become the champions for billions of Internet users or a handful of U.S. content billionaires," he tweeted.
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 determined to claim Dotcom's scalp.
Dawson does 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 hearing will resume on Thursday, when the judge will hand down a decision on the defendants' application for a stay of proceedings.
Dotcom greeted supporters in the gallery but sat apart from the other accused men in a black leather armchair taken to the court from his mansion. He told New Zealand radio last week he needed a special chair because of back problems.
The case 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.
The hearing is scheduled to take two weeks. Monday's session was largely procedural, and the case will resume on Thursday.