Student faces U.S. extradition over 'pirate-TV link' website

UK-US extradition policy is under scrutiny, after a UK student with a pirate link-only website could face trial in the U.S., even though his alleged crimes were not committed there.

Let's take a wild hypothetical for a minute or two.

If I were here to publish a post -- or tweet a link -- which points to copyrighted material based on popular torrenting website The Pirate Bay, as a British citizen living on British soil, should I be extradited to the United States to face copyright infringement charges?

The answer of course is: yes. At least, in the eyes of the U.S. government, it is.

(Though tempting as it was, the lawyers kindly asked me not to).

Enter the case of a British computer science student, will find out in January whether he will be extradited to the United States to face trial for a website he owned, which purportedly offered links to other external pages where content could be streamed or downloaded.

The criminal charges against 23-year-old student Richard O'Dwyer relate to TV-Shack, a website which offered links -- not content itself -- to unlicensed streams of television programmes and Hollywood films elsewhere on the web.

But questions loom over whether a UK citizen should be tried in the United States, with its server and offices thought to be in Sweden, and its domain name belonging to the Keeling Islands in Australian territory, with no direct connection to the United States in any way, shape or form.

So, why is the U.S. government trying to extradite him?

(Source: CrunchBase)

During a hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court in Central London last week, his barrister told the court that U.S. authorities are attempting to "create an unlevel playing field at trial", and that because the alleged offenses took place in the Britain, the student should face a criminal or civil trial in the UK.

John Jones, QC, on behalf of the U.S. government, argued that the victims in this case, the film and televisions studios, are in the United States and that "access to the website took place in the U.S.".

On the former, that makes a arguably fair case. On the latter, however, should the extradition go ahead, there would be almost no jurisdictions left where the student could not be tried in, seeing as TV-Shack was one of the most popular destinations on the web for videos and television-linked content.

Visiting the site now will reveal a domain seizure seal by the U.S. Department for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Shortly after it moved to the .cc domain of Australian territory, the top-level domain was again seized, as the .cc domain was managed by U.S.-based Verisign

But under British law, the site is not illegal. Last year, a court dismissed a case in which a similar linking site known as TV-Links was ruled to not have committed any offence, as the website was 'no different to Google or Yahoo' in its linking capabilities.

Similarities have been drawn between this case and that of Gary McKinnon's, who could be extradited to face computer hacking charges in the United States. McKinnon, although within the UK at the time of the hacking offences, to which he admits to have carried out, U.S. government computers were the targets.

The only viable connection here, however, is that the 'victims' of McKinnon's alleged crimes were under U.S. jurisdiction, as arguably the victims in O'Dwyer's are, thought to be the television and Hollywood film studios.

But in the hope that UK legislation could assist the 23-year-old student facing extradition, may be in for a disappointment.

The UK's attorney general Dominic Grieve MP told the House of Commons last week that while recommendations made in the recent review of the UK's extradition arrangements by Lord Justice Baker were "guidelines", the government was not compelled to follow them.

The UK's current extradition laws state that UK citizens could be prevented from facing extradition if the defence can show: "...a significant part of the conduct alleged to constitute the extradition offence is conduct in the United Kingdom, and in view of that and all the other circumstances, it would not be in the interests of justice for the person to be tried for the offence in the requesting territory".

But these so-called "forum bars", measures to block the extradition of UK citizens whose alleged crimes are committed under UK jurisdiction, were rejected.

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