Thursday 9th October 2014
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Internet entrepreneur and failed political party-starter Kim Dotcom has taken another stab at keeping the value and nature of his unfrozen assets from Hollywood studios that are suing over copyright breaches in a Court of Appeal hearing in Wellington.
Justices Rhys Harrison, John Wild and Ellen French heard an application by Dotcom's lawyer, Tracey Walker, to withhold an affidavit outlining his assets from being released to Twentieth Century Fox, Disney Enterprises, Paramount Pictures, Universal City Studios Productions and Warner Bros Entertainment. Dotcom has already been forced to produce such an affidavit, and is seeking to keep it from the studios who are suing him and his compatriots for US$175 million for breaching their intellectual property with the now-defunct file-sharing service Megaupload.
Walker characterised the film studios' attempt to force disclosure of assets not already frozen by the courts as a "fishing expedition", when the order in place was simply to maintain the status quo, which was a freeze on the $11.8 million in New Zealand assets. An earlier High Court judgment has put the value on Dotcom's assets in Hong Kong at $22.1 million, and Walker said there are efforts to have those released.
Under intense questioning from the judges, Walker said the existing application by the studios was simply to preserve the criminal restraining order in place, and that because of the three-year statute of limitations on civil cases, the quantum of those assets already frozen would probably be enough to satisfy the studios.
Given the freezing orders already in place, Justice Wild appeared to back the studios' right to question where Dotcom had sourced $4 million funding for the Internet Party and a further $5 million that Dotcom promised as a bounty to anyone who could "come up with some dirt on the respondents and the US government" .
"The respondent has some justification to ask 'well, where's that coming from because his assets are frozen'?" the judge said.
The civil case already has a stay while the US Federal government pursues Dotcom, Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann and Bram van der Kolk to face charges of conspiracy to operate websites used to illegally distribute copyrighted content.
In a brief submission for the studios, Matt Sumpter said when the initial order was made the judges wouldn't have considered Dotcom had any other assets beyond those frozen.
The studios also sought the ability to disclose the affidavit, which Sumpter said would aid them in other legal jurisdictions outside New Zealand.
The judges reserved their decision.
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