Student Richard O'Dwyer spared US extradition and jail time over TV-Shack copyright charges

The erstwhile TVShack.net proprietor, who faced up to a decade in a US jail on copyright infringement charges, has struck a deal with the authorities there that will see him pay a relatively small amount of compensation.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

British student Richard O'Dwyer, who had been facing extradition to the US on copyright infringement charges, has struck a deal that will see him avoid a jail sentence there.

Richard O'Dwyer was the founder of TVShack.net. Image: Change.org

According to the BBC, O'Dwyer will go to the US voluntarily, rather than being extradited, and will pay "a small sum of compensation" to cover his alleged infringements. Court News UK states that the agreement was signed within the last two days.

O'Dwyer ran a site called TVShack.net, which was seized in mid-2011 by US Immigration and Customs. The site hosted links to other websites, where users could find streams of TV shows and films. According to the US authorities, he netted $230,000 (£147,000) in advertising revenue off the site.

Home secretary Theresa May signed O'Dwyer's extradition order in March this year. If he had not struck the deal that has just been agreed, he would have faced up to a decade in a US prison.

Was it a crime in the UK?

It is not entirely clear whether TVShack.net was illegal under UK law. It was in many ways similar to another site called RnBXclusive, which the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) took down in February under conspiracy-to-defraud, rather than copyright, law — both sites directed users to other sites that unlawfully held copyright content, rather than hosting such content themselves.

O'Dwyer's case raised the hackles of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who launched a campaign on his behalf in June. Wales's Change.org petition gathered more than 250,000 signatures.

The UK has a rather lopsided extradition arrangement with the US that was put in place in the context of the 'war on terror'. Under the arrangement, the US can demand the extradition of a UK citizen to face charges there without probable cause. The reverse does not apply.

The same arrangement very nearly led to the extradition of self-confessed 'NASA hacker' Gary McKinnon, who fought extradition to the US for around a decade. McKinnon, who suffers from a form of autism, was spared extradition last month, when May scrapped the extradition order. It remains to be seen whether he will face charges in the UK over the 2002 hacking episode.

Open Rights Group chief Jim Killock said in a statement that it was "great that [O'Dwyer's] extradition request will be dropped", but he should not have been up for extradition at all.

"Is the UK government happy for the US to assume jurisdiction over every UK Internet user? The government would do well to take a long hard look at its extradition arrangements with the USA," Killock said.

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