In what is a depressing reminder of the Blair government’s poor negotiation in the UK’s extradition agreement with the US, British student Richard O’Dwyer is due to be extradited to the US to face criminal prosecution for copyright infringement, generally considered a civil office on this side of the pond.
The 23 year old Sheffield Hallam University student lost his case in a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court today, but is expected to appeal the decision over alleged copyright infringement on TVShack, a website O’Dwyer used to run. The US Customs and Border Protection Agency claims that TVShack generated “over $230,000 in advertising revenue” before US authorities were able to obtain a warrant and seize the domain name, although no proof of this has been provided as only “reasonable suspicion” is needed to gain extradition to the US for prosecution rather than the more usual probably cause.
More worrying that the reduction in proof needed for extradition, however, is that the offence need not be an offence in the UK. In this case, whilst TVShack linked to numerous streaming sites offering US and UK television and film content, no charges have been filed in the UK. Moreover, any similar cases that have come to trial in the UK, such as the prosecution of music-sharing torrent site Oink have all failed. No matter how hard the entertainment industry have lobbied in the UK, most copyright infringement is still a civil matter on these shores. In the US, however, O’Dwyer could face five years in prison.
As national borders mean little with the internet, as whilst a person may run a website form the UK, it can be accessed by people from all over the world. For the UK to offer any citizen for extradition to another country because that website possibly contravenes their laws, but not UK laws is ridiculous. We do not have such an agreement with countries such as China, as any British citizen writing about dissent in that country would promptly be extradited to face years in prison – why is this ok with America? It is one thing for those specifically hacking targets in the US, but those incidentally breaching US copyright is hardly an offence worthy of extradition.
Additionally, the US has so far not prosecuted any individual for offering links to copyrighted content hosted elsewhere. Sites like TVShack sit in a legal grey area, as the copyrighted content does not sit on their own servers, and theoretically should be protected from prosecution under the same protections as search engines such as Google. Under US law, sites are protected under the DMCA for user submitted content as long as they take the content down when requested (and Google removes links from its results for this reason). As O’Dwyer was a UK citizen, however, he saw no need to cede to these requests as he was operating within British law. To prosecute him in the US when any offence was made in the UK is ridiculous.