US Gets Tough on Overseas Copyright Violations

Richard O’Dwyer, a 23 year old student from Sheffield, England is currently trying to appeal his extradition to America.  What has he done, you may ask?  He created a website that told people places they could find links to popular movies and TV shows. His ongoing case is just another example of how far the United States is willing to go to enforce copyright laws.


Mr. O’Dwyer ran the TVShack website from his home in Sheffield, England.  The way his site was setup, was to provide links to other websites that hosted copyrighted content.  The TVShack website did not host any copyright material itself.   He is currently facing two charges: conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and criminal infringement of copyright.  Each charge carries a maximum sentence of five years.


The basis for his extradition, the US/UK treaty, revised in 2003, has come under heavy criticism.  The Act was signed by George W. Bush and Tony Blair with the intention of making prosecution of terrorists easier.  One of the more significant changes made in the treaty is the level of proof needed to ask for an extradition.  When the United Kingdom requests to have someone extradited from America, there must be probable cause that the person actually committed the crime.  However, going the other way, from the UK into the US, there is no such requirement of probable cause.  US authorities no longer need to make a prima facie case to a British court in order to have their request granted.  They only need to put forward allegations with reasonable suspicion.


Civil liberties groups have requested that the UK government enact a dormant forum clause in the treaty.  “It’s not that we’re arguing that in every case where activity has taken place here we shouldn’t allow people to be extradited. But we should at least be leaving our judges some discretion to look at the circumstances. The forum clause would allow UK courts to bar extradition in the interests of justice where conduct leading to an alleged offence has quite clearly taken place on British soil.”


Mr. O’Dwyer’s lawyer has said that his client is the first UK citizen to be extradited for such an offense and has effectively become a guinea pig for the reaches of US copyright law.  “The computer servers were not based in America and there was no copyright material on the website.  The essential contention is that the correct forum for this trial is in fact here in Britain, where he was at all times. If there was an offense under UK law, then it has to be prosecuted and tested under UK law.  If there is no offense under UK law, then there is no victim to copyright infringement and no case for extradition. UK citizens should not be subject to the legal copyright standards of the United States.”


One of the most salient arguments put forward for Mr. O’Dwyer’s defense, is that in actuality, there hasn’t been a crime committed.  In February of last year, a judge dismissed charges of fraud and copyright against a similar site, TV-Links, and ruled that posting links alone was not illegal.


Do you think it’s fair for Mr. O’Dwyer to be subject to US copyright law?  Should the extradition treaty be revised?




  1. I can understand why the United States thinks that we have the right to impose our copyright laws on other countries. We have created the material and it is not right that just because someone is in a different country they can steal that material from us. It makes sense to want to punish anyone, anywhere who violates our copyright law; however, there needs to be a balance between enforcing our laws and considering the laws of the country we are seeking to extradite the person from.

    I think that extradition is a serious measure and in the case at hand the UK government should be able to at least hold a preliminary hearing before extradition takes place. It is okay for the United States to want to enforce our copyright laws globally, but we must do so while also respecting the laws and court system of other countries that seek to protect their citizens from unjust treatment. I think it would be fair for the United States to have to prove a prima facie case in order to extradite a foreign citizen from their home country in these types of cases.

  2. I agree with Gianna in that there needs to be a balance between enforcing our laws and considering the laws of the country we are seeking to extradite the person from. I also feel that trying O’Dwyer in the United States is a waste of judicial and federal resources. From the facts, O’Dwyer was not receiving a profit from his website, nor was he directly posting copyrighted material. It is possible that O’Dwyer could be found liable for indirect copyright infringement under U.S. law, but the fact that he was posting links to copyrighted material on his website and not the actual material would probably weaken this argument. In my opinion, O’Dwyer’s site should be shut down and the United States should focus on large-scale / substantial copyright infringement, rather than the indirect actions of a 23 year-old.

  3. I agree with Gianna that extradition is a serious measure, and that in an instance such as this, the UK should be able to hold some sort of hearing before the government extradites O’Dwyer to the United States.
    Additionally, it seems that the extradition treaty may need to be revised and revised. It does not seem fair that the UK must prove probable cause to have someone extradited out of the US and into the UK, while in the converse situation, the United States does not need to prove anything to have someone extradited out of the UK and into the US. This almost seems like it is the United State’s way of telling the UK that their judicial proceedings are unworthy, and that we will not trust them to make valuable decisions.

  4. While I readily admit that copyright laws are an important and needed consideration, I do not see how the United States can make a credible argument that it has jurisdiction to extradite a person from the UK for copyright infringement when the computer servers were not based on American Soil. Add this to the fact the website in question only contained links to websites that provide copyrighted material, as opposed to actually containing copyright material, and I would have to say the United State’s movement for jurisdiction here make even less sense. Finally, add in the fact that the United States want to be able to extradite for such an offense without technically even having to show probable cause and the proposal is outright ludicrous. This offense took place completely on UK soil and for that reason I think the matter should be deal with there.
    As for the US-UK extradition treaty discussed in this post, I find it odd that such a disparity was even approved of in the first place. That being said, considering the national problem with terrorism, I can see the desire for such a provision but even so I think it should be limited only to those suspect of terrorism or what is the point of people have inherent natural rights. How can one justify such a provision for extradition in light of the notion of due process?

  5. Richard O’Dwyer was not committing a crime in England. Subjecting him to U.S. copyright law is unfair bullying, and it shows a complete lack of respect for the laws of England (where it has already been adjudicated that linking to infringing material is not in itself copyright infringement).

    Readers might also be interested in the following blogs: “In Rem Seizures of Domain Names Registered to Foreign Entities” ( and “President Obama Signs ACTA, Creates Moral Hazard for the U.S.” (

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