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Megaupload Adds Superstar Lawyer to Defense Team

Andrew Schapiro also represents YouTube in battles with Viacom and knew Barack Obama at Harvard Law School.

Kim Dotcom Released on Bail - H 2012
Sandra Mu/Getty Images
Kim Dotcom

In advance of a criminal trial, Megaupload has added a legal superstar to its defense. Andrew Schapiro, a partner at Quinn Emanuel, reportedly has agreed to defend Megaupload's executives, including founder Kim Dotcom, on charges of massive copyright infringement and racketeering. Schapiro is best known for crafting YouTube's defense in an ongoing copyright battle with Viacom.

The move was confirmed by one of Megaupload's other U.S.-based attorneys, Ira Rothken, according to CNET.

In adding Schapiro to its defense team, the now-shuttered cyberlocker has gained an attorney who many believe is one of the brightest legal minds of his generation.

Schapiro earned rave reviews last autumn when arguing YouTube's cause before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Although Viacom was successful in getting the appellate circuit on Thursday to reverse a lower court's summary judgment dismissal, the decision adopted much of Schapiro's interpretation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, particularly on the issue of what degree of knowledge is necessary for ISPs to qualify for safe harbor from copyright infringement claims. Schapiro made a strong defense that under the DMCA, ISPs needed to be made specifically aware of identified infringements before being compelled to act. The 2nd Circuit largely agreed.

In defending Megaupload, Schapiro will be handling a criminal matter, not a civil one. As such, the rules of the road are somewhat different.

However, Schapiro also brings great experience on that front. In fact, until recently, the attorney -- who splits his time between Quinn Emanuel's New York and Chicago offices -- wasn't necessarily known for his IP expertise. His most noted case before representing YouTube was a successful defense of Robert Scavone, a former New York Stock Exchange trader who was charged with securities fraud. Prosecutors had accused his client of a scheme that cost investors $19 million, but a jury acquitted Scavone in 2006. Afterward, Schapiro boasted, "The government's case was built on a patchwork of assumptions of guilt and faulty inferences.''

The lawyer will no doubt attempt to unravel many of the assumptions brought against Megaupload. U.S. prosecutors are attempting to show how Dotcom and others were personally involved in a willful scheme that added up to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to the entertainment industry. And Schapiro's success in the YouTube case, which led many inside the tech community to believe they had safe harbor from liability, could be shown to have influenced Dotcom. The intent of the defendants likely will be one of the features of the upcoming case, assuming Dotcom is extradited from New Zealand.

Schapiro graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1990 and was editor of the Harvard Law Review. Ironically, Megaupload is now being prosecuted by the administration of Barack Obama, who was one of Schapiro's classmates and once gathered his praise in an interview with New York magazine.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner