Richard O’Dwyer, a 24-year old UK student, started a website when he was 22 which carried links to external sources where people could watch U.S. TV and movies online. The website in question, TVShack, acted as a search engine, allowing people to search user-submitted links. None of the allegedly copyright-infringing content was hosted or uploaded by the site or by Richard.
Now he is being targeted for extradition by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has decided to make O’Dwyer its prime target in its battle against digital copyright infringement. O’Dwyer has been charged with criminal infringement of copyright, and conspiracy to commit criminal infringement of copyright. Each carries a maximum five-year prison sentence.
Richard is a UK citizen, his website was not hosted in the US and the alleged offenses were not comitted on US soil, so what fucking right do the US have to try to demand he be extradited?
In general, search engines are not responsible for the content of external sites they link to; sites which carefully moderate al user-submitted content can sometimes be considered more responsible for the content which remains, as leaving it there could be construed as an approval of it. However, the “content” in this case was simply links to material elsewhere; there is no clear direct infringement case to answer as far as I can see.
Even if it was agreed that Richard’s website aided the distribution of copyright-infringing material, hauling him to a country irrelevant to the actions in question to face charges which could lead to up to ten years in jail? Seriously, what the fuck?
The Guardian reports:
However, the US authorities became concerned about a site linking to content often still within copyright. To sell a counterfeit CD or DVD of a copyrighted work is an offence, as is deliberately uploading such a work to the internet.
American customs officials, after campaigning from industry bodies, contended that linking to such items on other sites (as search engines and others automatically do) would also be covered by such laws.
This is a contentious interpretation of the law, even in the US, where linking has in some court cases been regarded as protected speech under the first amendment. Part of the reason for the huge backlash against proposed copyright laws, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and the Protect [Intellectual Property] Act (Pipa) was that this provision would come under attack.
O’Dwyer says he hadn’t really considered the legality of his site – he didn’t know much about copyright, and knew he was only posting users’ links to material hosted elsewhere – but did comply with legal notices from publishers asking him to remove links, on the few occasions he received them.
So, for a minor transgression, the US want to be able to haul him out of his own country to the US, and face potential way-over-the-top prison time? (He was already held in Wandsworth prison whilst awaiting bail.) Long-term prison time for a minor offense committed by a young student? Really, US, really?
I really hope the UK doesn’t allow this to happen. The US ICE need a quite simple response to be provided: Fuck Off. However, apparently home secretary Theresa May, who must clear all UK/US extraditions, has already given her approval to it. His appeal therefore now depends on a high court hearing, due later this year.
There is a petition to the UK home office to stop this extradition.