British Student Faces Extradition to the US for Linking to Copyrighted Material

He created a website that allegedly linked to copyrighted material. Now, the US wants Richard O’Dwyer, the former owner of TVShack, to face a US court over his websites activities prior to both domain seizures.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

It’s unlikely that when O’Dwyer started TVShack, he imagined that he would face extradition demands from the US. That’s exactly what is happening today. was the original domain for the website. It was a fairly popular website for people to find links to things like TV shows. However, all that came to an end last July when federal officials shut down the linking website’s domain name as part of their “Operation In Our Sites” campaign. The website quickly re-emerged as Then, at the end of November, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) seized the domain again in part of their “Operation In Our Sites v 2.0”. Officially, the website never came back again as clone sites were all that remained after that.

The owner is apparently out on bail after being arrested and wont face a court in Britain until September. As far as the US is concerned, that apparently isn’t enough. According to British newspaper, The Star, the US is demanding that he face a court in the US for linking to copyrighted material. The report says that the Computer Science student is in complete disbelief over the charges. From the report:

A source close to Richard said: “He’s in total disbelief over the charges against him and very anxious about the impact this may have on his studies since he has two years left of his degree. He’s daunted and frightened by the

prospect of being extradited to America let alone the disruption to his career.”

His mother Julia O’Dwyer said the decision to put him on trial in the US was ‘madness’.

“Richard clearly has a talent for web design but was foolish in not understanding the implications of copyright,” she said.

“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.”

ZDNet, also covering the story, contains the following:

Terms of his bail involved not entering ports or airports and not applying to register new domain names. On Tuesday, O’Dwyer appeared before the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a brief preliminary hearing. His lawyer said the extradition demands made by the US breached O’Dwyer’s human rights and there was no basis for extradition.

“The server was not based in the US at all. 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,” Cooper is quoted in the report as saying.

There appears to not be any connection to the US and there was no copyrighted material on the TVShack servers. That is definitely a source of contention for those criticial of the US move. TechDirt offered offered some interesting observations on that:

Where this becomes really troubling is that other, very similar sites have been found legal in the UK multiple times. Running a site that users use to put up links and which doesn’t host any actual content, is not seen as illegal in the UK. So it seems particularly ridiculous that there’s some sort of attempt to extradite the guy to the US to face charges here. As some have pointed out it appears to be “an attempt to make US federal laws applicable in the UK.”

Unfortunately, the details of the extradition request are a bit muddled in all of the UK papers reporting on it. Lots of them are comparing the situation to the famous Gary McKinnon situation, but I think this is clearly different. This just seems blatantly vindictive for no good reason.

The details of the case are, indeed, rather troubling. If someone in Britain can be extradited to the US for linking to copyrighted material, why can’t the owners of Google, Bing or any other search engine face similar charges – especially given that all of them do have bigger ties to the US than TVShack. It seems like a very questionable response at best given the nature of the website.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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