UK Home Secretary Theresa May has approved the extradition of 23-year-old British student Richard O'Dwyer to face copyright infringement charges in the U.S. --- even though his alleged crimes were not committed there, and UK law dictates that his actions are not illegal.
The extradition paves the way for other Britons to be sent to the United States to face similar charges, setting a dangerous precedence for civil liberties.
O'Dwyer set up TV-Shack, an aggregator website that provided links to third-party sites where television shows and movies were available for streaming. No copyrighted content was hosted on servers he owned.
Following his arrest, he was warned he could face trial in the United States. O'Dwyer faces up to five years in a U.S. prison if convicted. He is expected to appeal, and the case could end up at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
A UK government spokesperson confirmed the request, and said the Home Secretary had "carefully considered all relevant matters" before approving the extradition.
Four conditions need to be met to refuse extradition, including if a British citizen faces the death penalty. One lawyer said speaking to ZDNet: "She had no choice but to grant the extradition." Today was more of a formality than anything, but until he exhausts all his appeal options, he will not be put on a plane to the United States.
And here's where the danger starts.
Lawyers for the U.S. government weakly claimed that the "victims" of O'Dwyer's alleged crimes --- the television and film studios --- were based in the U.S. and should therefore be tried there. It was also claimed that "access to the website took place in the U.S.", failing to recognise that the global inter-connected network of computers that runs the Web means that, bar governmental censorship, every websites is available to every country in the world.
But it was argued that the site was "no different to Google" in how it operated. In practical, objective terms, the site was no different to Google, or any other search engine for that matter.
O'Dwyer's lawyer Ben Cooper said during his client's trial that he would become a "guinea pig" for U.S. copyright laws. Previously, such a site was not illegal.
A court dismissed a case in 2010 where a similar site TV-Links was deemed to have not committed any offence under UK law. European law says that Internet firms like search engines may be granted legal protection from copyright infringement suits if they have little or no influence over the material they link to.
As the extradition has been approved, every British citizen is now at risk for a similar offence. This means that any British citizen who tweets or blogs a link to a file-sharing or peer-to-peer website where copyrighted materials are sourced, could face extradition under UK law.
But as the Telegraphreports, the judge in O'Dwyer's extradition hearing ruled that he was "intimately involved in deciding who was allowed to post links" on the site, allegations which were comparable under UK copyright law.