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?