British Student Faces Extradition For Web Piracy
A student at Sheffield Hallam could be extradited to the US for linking to copyrighted content on his website
A 23-year-old computer student at Sheffield Hallam University is reportedly facing extradition to the United States, after he was found to be running a website that provided hyperlinks to copyrighted content.
Computer science undergraduate Richard O’Dwyer, creator of the website TVShack.net, was arrested on 23 May, and the server was seized by US Immigration and Customs. TV Shack linked to thousands of films and TV shows on other sites, but did not host them directly.
O’Dwyer was taken to Wandsworth prison and then released on £3,000 bail, which was paid by his aunt. Terms of his bail involved not entering ports or airports and not applying to register new domain names.
Not based in the US
O’Dwyer now faces extradition, following charges of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and criminal infringement of copyright. He appeared before the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a preliminary hearing on 14 June, represented by Ben Cooper, a lawyer who is also involved in the long-running extradition case of NASA hacker Gary McKinnon.
“The server was not based in the US at all,” said Cooper, speaking to local newspaper The Star. “Mr O’Dwyer did not have copyrighted material on his website; he simply provided a link. The essential contention is that the correct forum for this trial is in fact here in Britain, where he was at all times.”
A further hearing is scheduled for 12 September. If O’Dwyer is extradited to the US he will be subject to the harsher copyright legislation on that side of the pond, and will also be cut off from public funding.
“Richard clearly has a talent for web design but was foolish in not understanding the implications of copyright,” said his mother, Julia O’Dwyer. “Yet to try to haul him off to America for trial while he’s midway through his university studies is so utterly disproportionate it defies belief.”
Terms of infringement unclear
O’Dwyer’s case echoes that of Oink’s Pink Palace creator Alan Ellis, who was the first person in the UK to be prosecuted for illegal file-sharing. The Oink website was described by music industry organisations as an “online pirate pre-release music club,” and had 200,000 members who downloaded 21 million music files.
However, Ellis was acquitted in January after he explained that Oink did not host any music itself but simply indexed the files users had available on their computers. “All I do is really like Google, to really provide a connection between people,” he told police officers.
Meanwhile, Gary McKinnon’s case is currently before Home Secretary Theresa May, who has to make a final decision as to whether he should be extradited. McKinnon, who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, has admitted to hacking into nearly 100 American military systems in 2001 and 2002, saying he was looking for proof of the existence of UFOs. He faces up to 60 years in prison if tried under the American judicial system.
The UK’s Digital Economy Act, which was brought in last year to punish illegal file-sharers, is currently under review, after a report from the United Nations highlighted that cutting off music and film pirates from the Internet could be a violation of the right to free expression.