British student Richard O'Dwyer, who created the TV-Shack website, will be extradited to the United States to face copyright infringement allegations, a UK court ruled today.
The 23-year-old student set up and ran the aggregator website, which offered links to unlicensed streams of television programmes and films that were available elsewhere on the web.
O'Dwyer faces five years in a U.S. prison should he be convicted. An appeal is expected to be lodged. The UK's home secretary would make the final decision as to whether the student is extradited.
The British citizen set up a server thought to be in Sweden, and the domain name belongs to the Keeling Islands in Australian territory. There is no obvious connection to the United States.
But lawyers representing the U.S. government claimed that the victims in this case, the film and television studios, are based in the United States and that "access to the website took place in the U.S."
This case sets a dangerous precedent that others can be extradited to the United States, or other countries, even if a crime had not been committed there.
It also poses a problem for sites that include or offer links to copyrighted material. Google falls within this scope, as does Bing, or any other search engine for that matter.
According to the U.S. authorities, O'Dwyer received more than $230,000 in advertising revenue since January 2008. But when one objectively looks at this site, though its purpose was to provide access to copyrighted content, a stark comparison can be made between any other search engine.
While Google and Bing and others are seemingly neutral in their search results, and do not seek to promote infringing copyright, they nevertheless provide links to illegally downloadable content.
ZDNet's Stephen Chapman explained this last year concerning how many U.S. universities are falling foul of copyright laws, by allowing their web servers to contain copyrighted material. A few simple queries can show how easy it is to search Google for specific filetypes and names of movies, music content, software.
Google was criticised for removing torrent sites from its predictive search, but still displays a link to such sites including The Pirate Bay when the term is entered.
In theory, should a British citizen tweet a link to a a torrent of a copyrighted film or television programme, for example, under this case they could also face extradition.
O'Dwyer's lawyer Ben Cooper said that his client would effectively become a "guinea pig" for copyright infringement laws in the U.S., as the student is the first British citizen to be extradited for such an offence.
Under British law, the site is not illegal. A UK court last year dismissed a case in which TV-Links, a similar link-aggregating site, was ruled to not have committed any offence. The site was deemed to be "no different to Google or Yahoo".
Image credit: CrunchBase.
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