A British Judge has ruled that 23 year old Richard O’Dwyer, a British college student, can be extradited to the United States to face copyright infringement charges. O’Dwyer operated the TVShack website, which served as a link hub, pointing users to content hosted on other sites across the Internet.
Back in July 2011, O’Dwyer was running TVShack, which operated only as a link site. The site pointed users to locations across the web where they could download content. Much of the content linked to by TVShack was infringing on copyright.
During the time when O’Dwyer operated TVShack, neither himself nor his servers were located in the United States. Despite that simple fact, the US government is seeking to have him extradited from Britain to the US to face copyright infringement charges.
Whether or not linking to copyright infringing material is legal in the UK is a matter of debate. One judge has argued that under current British law the operation of a linking site is considered legal in a case that reached its resolution back in 2010.
In November O’Dwyer and his lawyer argued that the student had not broken any laws because TVShack was no different than other search engines like Google or Yahoo. The counter argument given by the US government was that O’Dwyer deliberately promoted links to copyright infringing content on the front page of TVShack, something Google does not do. That makes O’Dwyer responsible in the eyes of the US.
Judge Quentin Purdy of the Westminster Magistrates court sided with the US. His decision included the following statement, “There are said to be direct consequences of criminal activity by Richard O’Dwyer in the USA albeit by him never leaving the north of England. Such a state of affairs does not demand a trial here if the competent UK authorities decline to act and does, in my judgment, permit one in the USA.”
As expected O’Dwyer’s attorney, Ben Cooper, immediately stated that they would appeal the decision. Cooper claims O’Dwyer would be the first British citizen extradited for this kind of charge and that he would become a “guinea pig.” Cooper is definitely right that this would set quite a precedent regarding extradition in cases of copyright infringement. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this is a very dangerous precedent to set. Hopefully O’Dwyer can win this appeal and put a stop to this particular kind of legal madness.