Kim DotCom warrants invalid, New Zealand judge rules

High Court judge finds search warrants were too general and rules the data in cloned drives should not have been released to the FBI.

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MegaUpload founder Kim DotCom.

The U.S. piracy case against MegaUpload founder Kim DotCom appears to have run aground, with a New Zealand court ruling that the search warrants issued in January were invalid.

New Zealand High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann ruled Thursday that the warrants did not adequately describe the offenses alleged, according to a report in the New Zealand Herald. "Indeed they fell well short of that," she said. "They were general warrants, and as such, are invalid.''

She also ruled that it was unlawful for the data confiscated in the raid to have been sent offshore, saying "the release of the cloned hard drives to the FBI for shipping to the United States was contrary to the 16 February direction" [given by the court] "that the items seized were to remain in the custody and control of the Commissioner of Police."

MegaUpload is a cloud-storage locker that DotCom claims was completely legitimate and protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. U.S. officials, who are trying to extradite Dotcom and six associates to face piracy and wire fraud charges, say he encouraged users to store pirated videos, music, software, and other media and then share them with others. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

DotCom, 38, was arrested in January at the mansion he leases near Auckland, New Zealand, after the U.S. handed down an indictment on criminal copyright violations and racketeering. Millions of dollars worth of cash, cars, and other possessions belonging to DotCom were seized during a sensational raid on his estate.

Soon after his arrest, news reports were filled with images of his $30 million mansion and of New Zealand police hauling away his pink Cadillac and Mercedes Benz. The United States said MegaUpload had cost Hollywood studios and other copyright owners $500 million.

Since that January raid, DotCom and some of the other MegaUpload defendants have won a string of favorable court decisions in New Zealand that have led to their release on bail, the return of some of their assets, and a court order that requires the FBI to show the evidence it has against the company. MegaUpload's lawyers are expected to appear in a Virginia federal court on Friday to argue that the charges should be tossed out.

DotCom recently received the support of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and famed former hacker Kevin Mitnick, who told DotCom, "I hope you win."

CNET's Greg Sandoval contributed to this report.