Monday, January 21, 2013

In attendance: the Mega crew parties, prepares for a fight ahead Dotcom's Mega colleagues celebrate then speak to Ars about what's next.

In attendance: the Mega crew parties, prepares for a fight ahead

Dotcom's Mega colleagues celebrate then speak to Ars about what's next.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND—“A year ago we were in a cell with only toilet paper and a blanket,” says Bram van der Kolk as midnight approaches at the Mega launch party.
But, oh, how times have changed. Now during its first 14 hours of operation, the new file sharing service has gained a claimed 500,000 sign-ups. Tonight, Vander der Kolk and fellow Megaupload coaccused Mathias Ortmann are running on adrenalin. Mega's programmer and chief technology officer say they have been awake for 40 hours straight.
Ortmann confides things might have been easier if Kim Dotcom had taken a low key approach to publicity, allowing for a soft launch. Well, Kim is Kim. And so the new service has been inaccessible at times. “We’ve had to reboot the storage servers every hour,” Ortmann says. The pair work with Cogent’s German operation (where the site is hosted during its launch phase) on a solution.
But the man of the moment has disappeared into his mansion for a smaller celebration. “It’s his birthday in a few minutes,” Ortmann says. It was Kim’s birthday party a year ago that provided the FBI and NZ Police with the convenient opportunity to arrest Dotcom, fellow NZ resident Ortmann, van der Kolk, and Finn Batato in one place. This year, the preparations proceed without unforeseen interruption.
There’s lots of razzmatazz at the Mega launch party, with many flourishes of Dotcom-style goofiness and showmanship. During prelaunch drinks, guests are buzzed by a remote controlled drone helicopter. During the presentation, they are buzzed by the real-thing as a helicopter lands and mock FBI agents rappel down the sides of Dotcom mansion.

The guest list

Everyone was in good cheer—except for head body guard Wayne Tempero.
Even members of Dotcom’s security detail are in good cheer, bar the intense Wayne Tempero. While others mug for the camera during rehearsals, the head bodyguard stomps back to work. Tempero did not resist FBI agents or NZ Police during the January 20, 2012 raid, but he faces two firearms charges related to a gun found on property.
Mega CEO Tony Lentino (left) certainly enjoying his evening (pictured here with social media consultant Vaughn Davis.
Guests included Tony Lentino, the hitherto-unknown tech entrepreneur who has been named Mega’s CEO and revealed as its largest outside investor. (The $NZ20 million annual revenue company he owns, Instra, is also contracted to supply billing and other technical services for Mega). The earthy, dressed down Lentino drinks beer straight from the bottle. On Friday, Dotcom described him as a close friend long before the raid. He even revealed Lentino paid the rent on Dotcom Mansion— plus living expenses for Kim’s family—to the tune of around $250,000 before the German’s accounts were partially unfrozen.
Despite both being Web entrepreneurs, "We actually met offline, when Kim dragged one of his cars at my airstrip,” Lentino says. (Lentino's 1000-acre property in Wellsford, nor far from Dotcom Mansion, includes an airfield). Evidently, the pair bonded over their enthusiasm for fast cars.
Through interviews, and the event itself, there’s no doubt that Mega is an expression of Kim Dotcom’s vision of where the content industry is heading. The laid back Lentino has no problem with that. He says he’s the “administrative guy” and is happy with Dotcom being the ideas guy, plus the lightning rod for world attention.
Lentino poses with EuroDNS founder Xavier Buck.
Although he’s had almost zero public profile, Lentino seems to be a prolific networker in the domain industry—he's the one who introduced Dotcom to EuroDNS founder Xavier Buck. Luxembourg-based EuroDNS has since become a technology partner to Mega, though Dotcom would not comment on whether EuroDNS was also the mystery Luxembourg investor in Mega. Buck said he felt immediate empathy with Dotcom having tangled with law enforcement authorities himself in cyber-squatting cases brought by L'Oreal and Air France.
Prime seats were available to Robert Amsterdam, the newest addition to the Dotcom legal team by way of the Washington, DC and London-based Amsterdam & Partners (far right, pink shirt).
Also circling is the latest addition to Dotcom’s ever-expanding legal team: Robert Amsterdam of Washington, DC and London-based Amsterdam & Partners. The human rights lawyer says his key work has been in Venezuela, Russia, and Nigeria. Now he's contracted by Kim Dotcom to investigate a possible human rights angle on the Megaupload case—in particular whether one human, former Senator and current MPAA head Christopher Dodd, breached Dotcom’s rights by going out of his way to engineer what Amsterdam said could be seen as a “contract prosecution.”
Amsterdam agrees his work could help Dotcom seek redress from the US government down the track. But his immediate aim is to publicize Dodd’s role. “This prosecution should not be afforded the presumption of regularity," he says. "The way this was done—the helicopters; the rappelling down the buildings [of Dotcom mansion]; the over-reaction—all of these are signs of a classic political prosecution.”
Amsterdam will spend the next two days interviewing the Megaupload team as part of his preparations for a “white paper” he will publish in around two months’ time.
Auckland software developer Ben Gracewood was invited after helping Dotcom gain even more viral notoriety (in green, pictured with tech blogger Paul Spain to his right).
Fittingly, Auckland software developer Ben Gracewood was among the guests. Gracewood played an unwitting role in Dotcom’s rise as a cult hero in New Zealand and further afield, when he tweeted to the Megaupload team: “You guys just drive around in modified electric vehicles and pose for photos. I could live like that.” At the time, Kim replied he should come on over and bring friends. Gracewood did, and the resulting “Swim at Kim’s” became a surprise viral hit with world media, including love from The New York Times on July 3. It was the first time since his January 20 arrest that Dotcom engaged with the public. He's been on the front-foot in PR terms ever since.
Doctom's US lawyer Ira Rothken and his New Zealand lead, Paul Davison.
Dotcom’s US lawyer Ira Rothken spent a long time chatting with his New Zealand lead, Paul Davison QC. Rothken says it is inevitable Hollywood, music labels, and the DOJ (which has hinted at fresh charges if the Mega launch goes ahead) will come after the new service. He does, however, stop short of predicting a fresh wave of legal action.
“We fully expect them to say and do things that we believe at the end of the day will be inaccurate, and designed to embarrass, and designed to harass,” he says.
Doctom's wife Mona was also in attendance—it is the Dotcom mansion, after all (Emily Lentino, Tony's wife, pictured in the blue dress).
Kim Dotcom’s wife Mona also took in the affair. As usual, she kept a low profile. But in commercial terms, she is the power behind the throne. Mona Dotcom owns 89.31 percent of Mega Ltd, according to NZ Companies Office records (the balance is owned by a company controlled by Lentino).
InternetNZ policy lead Susan Chalmers.
The global gained its “” domain (which usually designates a New Zealand company) after Gabon suspended the previous “”, allegedly under US government pressure. If any such pressure exists, InternetNZ (which administers the domain on behalf of ICAAN) is not showing it. Outgoing InternetNZ CEO Vikram Kumar has been an outspoken supporter of Dotcom, and InternetNZ policy lead Susan Chalmers attended the Mega launch party.
If you lived in New Zealand, you'd recognize musician Tiki Taane.
Mainstream record labels have been hostile to Dotcom, even pressuring a local media company to take Mega ads off air. But the party included a number of music personalities, including DJ Tim Phin and singer Tiki Taane. Still, overall, music industry figures were conspicuously absent.

Perhaps the next RSVP events?

Sure, a lot of interesting people attended. But the man we all came to see eventually took the stage.
Onstage, Dotcom talked up two new services that will follow Mega in around six months time. First is Megabox, which will offer music, cutting in artists on profits. The second is Megakey, which will allow people to access that content for free if they earn credits by installing a plugin that substitutes ads served up by websites with those fed from the Mega network. (A service called "Megamovie" is also in the works, and will offer a similar setup for films.)
Offstage, Kim offered further details. All Megabox users will be given a dollop of free Megakey credit to hook people into the service. And for those who don’t want the ad-serving Megakey plug in “You can choose to just straight out buy the music that is on the [Megabox] site, just like you would on iTunes.”
But wait, won’t media sites, and most of any description, be hostile to their own ads being blocked and replaced by those served by the Megakey browser plugin as a visitor seeks to build ad-viewing credits to ‘buy’ music from Dotcom?
“No. Here’s how we’ll do it at first,” Dotcom explains. “Only 10 percent of the ads you see will be ‘adjusted’. This is not a general removal of ads. We’re not going to replace ads off small publishers, for example, or sites that have an Alexa rating below 100,” he pledges. “That is not our goal. We’ll be taking it [ad revenue] from the big guys, and giving it to the smaller artists.”
Chris Keall is Technology Editor at New Zealand's National Business Review. He interviewed Dotcom late last week before the weekend's events.
Listing image by Chris Keall


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