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US wins extradition of British student over UK-based website

Published time: March 13, 2012 19:01
Edited time: March 13, 2012 23:01
Richard O'Dwyer (AFP Photo / Carl Court)

Richard O'Dwyer (AFP Photo / Carl Court)

A 23-year-old student from the UK will be extradited to the United States to face trial for operating a website overseas that linked visitors to external pages that hosted copyrighted material.

Richard O'Dwyer of Sheffield Hallam University in northern England will soon find himself on American soil following the United States’ recent victory in an attempt to extradite the student stateside over a website he ran. American authorities attest that O’Dwyer’s TVShack website, while not in violation of any UK laws where he lived and operated it, infringed on American copyright legislation.

The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement department first seized O’Dwyer’s website, TVShack.com, in June 2010. At the time they were able to shut-down the site as the US has jurisdiction over any .net and .com domain names, a revelation which prompted O’Dwyer to relaunch his site with a .cc domain extension shortly after. Even still, authorities were back in a matter of months and questioned O’Dwyer over his revamped operation. That meeting happened in November, and the boy’s mother explained to Ars Technica at the time, "One of them said 'Don't worry, you won't have to go to America.'"

Barely a year later, the US opened a new investigation, filed extradition papers and, as of now, O’Dwyer is expected to soon see an American judge. On Tuesday, the UK Home Secretary agreed to extradite the young man after the Westminster Magistrates' Court ruled in January that shipping him to America to face charges would be an option on the table.

"I've done nothing wrong under UK law, and, it's pretty ridiculous isn't it?” Dwyer tells BBC Newsbeat in the UK. "A 65-year-old man was extradited a few weeks ago, so if they can extradite someone that old they can extradite anyone really, couldn't they?

"Copyright laws differ between countries and that's yet to be fought, that argument."

Despite that argument, however, the US believes that O’Dwyer was in the wrong, as far as they are concerned. TVShack sold advertising space and, according to American officials, netted more than $230,000 before American agents first shut it down. The site itself provided users with links to other sites which, when clicked, would take his visitor to external and unaffiliated pages that often streamed copyrighted material, including American television programs protected by US laws.

O’Dwyer’s case is similar to that of Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom, who is facing a possible extradition from New Zealand to the US over his own site, one which provided  file-sharing services for users and made money off of selling ads and subscriptions.  Unlike Dotcom, however, O’Dwyer did not host any illegal material or allow users to commit crimes by uploading such. Instead, rather, O’Dwyer managed a website that just contained links to other site, something his attorney says is on par with the services Google offers.

"If Richard appears to have committed a crime in this country – then try him in this country,” he mother, Julia, tells BBC today. She adds that she believes that her son was “sold down the river” by the government and cautions others to be weary of UK officials siding with pressure from the US.

"It's disgusting. Next time it may be your son. I urge everyone who cares about unfair extradition to write to their MP and insist this disreputable law is changed,” adds Ms. O’Dwyer.