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WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A New Zealand judge has stepped down from overseeing the extradition case of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom after jokingly referring to the United States as "the enemy."
The comment by Auckland District Court Judge David Harvey raised questions about his impartiality. He was discussing Internet copyright at a conference last week when he told an audience, "We have met the enemy, and he is U.S."
Harvey's comments referencing late cartoonist Walt Kelly were recorded and posted on the Internet.
The U.S. is attempting to extradite Dotcom on racketeering and money laundering charges that allege his file-sharing site was facilitating massive Internet piracy.
Harvey will be replaced by judge Nevin Dawson. An extradition hearing has been scheduled for March.
Despite that looming threat and the quite serious charges he faces, Dotcom has seen growing support for his case -- both in legal arenas and in the public eye.
In late June, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak came out in support of the Internet entrepreneur, saying the U.S. piracy case against Kim Dotcom is "hokey" and a threat to Internet innovation. Wozniak said he was visiting New Zealand to give a speech when he learned Dotcom couldn't come to see him because he was under house arrest. So Wozniak said he visited Dotcom and the two have kept in touch by email since.
"It's just kind of ridiculous what they did to his life," Wozniak said in a telephone interview. "An awful lot of Kiwis support him. The U.S. government is on thin ground."
Wozniak said plenty of people used Megaupload for legitimate purposes before federal authorities shut it down in January and filed criminal charges against seven of its officers, including Dotcom. In a dramatic raid the same month, New Zealand police swooped down in helicopters onto the grounds of Dotcom's mansion and cut their way into a safe room where they found him hiding. He was jailed for a month before a judge decided he could be monitored from his home.
Wozniak likened the Megaupload site to a highway and those who shared pirated movies and songs to speeding motorists.
"You don't just shut down the whole street because somebody is speeding," he said.
In an email interview, Dotcom said the charges are bogus.
"The more people learn about this case the more they realize that this type of copyright disagreement between Hollywood and new cloud storage technology is a political debate, not something that belongs in the criminal court and certainly not something to justify breaking down the door to my house," he said.
Dotcom said Megaupload had been applauded for its content removal policies. But he also acknowledged the site could host pirated files.
"What people uploaded and downloaded in their storage areas was up to them. One person's licensed music MP3 file is potentially another person's infringing file," he wrote.