British admin for download links database may be first extradited to US for copyright charges

No British citizen has ever been extradited to the United States for a copyright offense. But Richard O'Dwyer, the 23-year-old college student who ran TV Shack, may become the first.

As I understand it, the charges aren't that his (very popular) site actually hosted the copyrighted content, but that it served as a directory of links to other servers online where those downloads could be found.

Torrentfreak has more on the legal battle. The lawyer for accused hacker Gary McKinnon, whom the US would also like to extradite for prosecution, is representing O'Dwyer. They lost their first round in the extradition case today, and have 14 days to appeal.

Here is a copy of Friday's ruling (PDF).

In this BBC video of a press briefing outside of court today, a reporter asks O'Dwyer if he believes he's done anything wrong by linking people to sites where there is infringing content. "I think you should ask Google the same question," he replies. "[They're doing what I'm doing] on a much grander scale."

I admire his taste in t-shirts to wear to one's day in court.

If you visit any of the domains previously used to host TV Shack, you'll see the US Government notice above, which gives way after a click to this cheesy PSA.

Update: Boing Boing reader Keith Irwin has a great comment in the thread below, with an astute point I neglected to make in the original post:

[T]his sets a terrible precedent. If a UK citizen can be extradited to the US because of the content of their web pages hosted in the UK, why wouldn't US citizens be able to be extradited to Thailand on charges of disrespecting the king or to China for undermining the government by being critical of it? To even press this case at all shows either a fundamental undervaluing of the freedom of speech of everyone, including US citizens, or, more likely, a belief in the most fundamental of American hypocrisies: the idea that the rules that the US applies to the rest of the world shouldn't be applied to the US.


  1. Re: the cheesy PSA— It’s funny how big media companies suddenly seem to care about their artists and technicians so much.

  2. I actually kind of like the PSA. I think those kinds of things are what the government should focus on instead of passing laws and making wars on ideas and substances. 

    For instance, almost everyone wore a seatbelt before it became a law to do so. There was a large enough public education campaign and enough exposure that people made their own choice to wear a seatbelt. PSAs may be cheesy, but large, public-awareness campaigns are effective.

    Piracy is sometimes and sometimes not a victimless crime, but it’s impossible to tell which it is in each individual case. I can guarantee that most people who pirate things don’t have the money to fund all of their pirated goods. Maybe they pirated 30 games, but if piracy was impossible, they’d have either bought 1 or none. So was there harm inflicted on all 30 game publishers? If piracy was impossible, how many games would our mythical scenario person buy? How can you quantify the money lost? You can’t. You can’t even prove that there was money lost to begin with. And prosecuting piracy–though it appears to be marginally possible–is not only fraught with false positive identifications of innocent people, but the loss of our privacy, freedom, and liberties far outweighs the cost of piracy. That’s why PSAs like these are good, and Great Firewalls and arresting 8 year olds and 80 year olds like terrorists are bad.

    1. Yeah, but those individuals who did have the money to fund a purchase of a video game, and would have, but now dont have to purchase it since its free, is the other side of the equation that you dont mention. Revenue for these creators, artists, writers, goes toward zero quickly…as does their incentive to create- for those somewhat motivated by earning a living. Look at the recording industry….in the doldrums for 10 years since absolutely no money to be made from albums anymore. Tough issue.

      1.  So, here I am, a poor student. But I still have cd’s, dvd’s, books and games. I still go to the movies every once in a while.

        However, I don’t watch mtv for example, I think the music they lay there is shit, and many think the same.

        the music industry is not in the doldrums because of piracy, but because they make the wrong decision, tend to milk their products and are a corrupt bunch. (see the recent dutch case.) 

      2. I’m going to need a citation for the claim that “Revenue for these creators, artists, writers, goes toward zero quickly…as does their incentive to create…”

        The music and movie industries are growing. More content is being published that ever before. Yes, individual profits for big acts are down in some cases, but those are the big millionaire bands. More diverse artists are able to make a living at their art than before. The money is just getting spread amongst more artists, so its a smaller share for each, which is a good thing.

        And what is more indicative of the problem is that the profits of the middlemen who don’t make any art are still strong. If the artists aren’t doing well but their studios are, its because the studios have spent decades learning how to screw over artists. See also, Hollywood accounting practices and record label contracts.

  3. The United States is becoming more and more loved and respected around the world as the years go on.  It almost brings a proud tear to my eye to see how low far we’ve gone.

    1. I’d love to know the actual story behind that.

      Whether it’s indicating the whole thing is very mickey mouse, or if in fact it’s the most tasteful fingers up at Disney I’ve seen.

  4. God help the individual whom Big Money decides to make an example of. Because that’s why they’re doing this.

  5. This is the bit where things start getting scary for the rest of the world.  They’re attempting to have him extradited to the US for conduct which took place entirely in the UK.  He was in the UK the entire time and so was his server.  He’s been charged with copyright violation in the UK and the charges were dismissed by a judge on free speech grounds (as his site only had links to other places where you could pirate, not copyrighted materials themselves).  And the US is likely to successfully extradite him, too.  But the only reason why is that the extradition treaty between the US and the UK doesn’t allow UK judges to refuse extradition on the grounds that the conduct being alleged to be criminal did not happen in the US.

    Now, what’s most likely to happen here is that he will be extradited, and then the case in the US will be thrown out of court on jurisdictional grounds.  But he shouldn’t have to go through all of this.  Plus, this sets a terrible precedent.  If a UK citizen can be extradited to the US because of the content of their web pages hosted in the UK, why wouldn’t US citizens be able to be extradited to Thailand on charges of disrespecting the king or to China for undermining the government by being critical of it?  To even press this case at all shows either a fundamental undervaluing of the freedom of speech of everyone, including US citizens, or, more likely, a belief in the most fundamental of American hypocrisies: the idea that the rules that the US applies to the rest of the world shouldn’t be applied to the US.

    1. A UK citizen (subject?) can be extradited to the US if the offence for which he is being extradited would have been a criminal offence also in the UK. Does this need to happen on UK or US soil or is nationality the fundamental criteria here? Scary.

      1. The current treaty (signed by Tony Blair, iirc) is so vague and asymmetrical, basically any judge can do what the f*ck he feels like, because pretty much any crime against US law is an acceptable basis for extradition, no matter what other circumstances might be. 

        Note that the current Tory government repeatedly promised a review of the treaty; their LibDem coalition partners actually promised a repeal. Obviously none of this will happen (correction: the review DID happen, and found that everything is perfectly fine as it is…), because the UK is now officially a US colony in all but name.

        1. Yes. But it is the job of the legislature to draft and pass legislation, no matter how ill-defined and the job of the second chamber/judiciary to chuck it out where necessary and say ‘this is unworkable, this stinks’. Or did I miss something?
          We are not a colony. We are a US landing strip.

          1. Is there a concept of judicial review in the UK? Can a court through out a bad law, and if so, on what grounds?

    2. We can always hope that his lawyer is as cogent and articulate as you are. It would be absolutely wonderful if this turned on the plaintiff and they were held to account for the hypocritical, inconsistent, harassing, lying, and politically manipulative bastards they are.

      If it goes to trial (which I doubt), I think his lawyer will win the case based on the Google argument alone.

    1. sadly the commentards on there can’t see what the problem is… plenty of people are posting comments in support of him, yet the great DM herd is voting them down… DM readership is extremely Conservative and pro-authority…

  6. It’s one-way. The treaty is lopsided and this sucks and is frankly embarrassing.  As wiki says, “Controversy surrounds the US-UK extradition treaty of 2003 which was implemented in this act. It has been claimed to be one-sided[1] because it allows the US to extradite UK citizens and others for offences committed against US law, even though the alleged offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living and working in the UK (see for example the NatWest Three), and there being no reciprocal right; and issues about the level of proof required being less to extradite from the UK to the US rather than vice-versa[2].”

  7. Funny how the British treat any EU matter like it’s a franco-german nazi plot to rob their freedom and sovereignty but when the big US brother comes along with a new fascist “omg terrorists/pirates will eat our babies”-security treaty they bend over backwards to do their bidding.

          1. Because Tony Blair literally adores George Bush’s anus.

            Well, it’s his best feature, innit?

  8. come on…
    “I think you should ask Google the same question,” he replies. “[They’re doing what I’m doing] on a much grander scale.”
    that’s too stupid to be real… if those are really his arguments, he’s so fscked up…
    (even the lamest, tech-impaired judge knows the difference between a search engine and a thematic, dedicated website)

    1. so if you can buy milk and drugs in a store, the store should not be prosecuted, but if the store only sells drugs, it should.  

      1. It is rather like, if pfitzer sells drugs, it is ok. But if some private person does it, it is against the law and the country where pfitzer is will demand extradition of this offender.

        I think google search is great as it is. And I think the British should be more caring for their own people. They have their own courts. If a Britsh citizen does something against the countries law, they can put them to court there. And if people are afraid their copyrighted stuff will be used without paying, they should keep it to themselves.

        It is like having a garden with many cherry trees and some children taking away a few cherries. And some cherries are eaten by birds. But the big part will be sold. We all have to live with those minor injustices of live. We do not drag those children to court and we do not shoot the crows. If we want to have all the cherries for ourselves, we have to build a house around the trees. But then, the trees will die.

    2. Actually it depends on how his site works.  If it crawls automatically, via some kind of robot, then it’s essentially just a filtered search result, or a predefined search; so very similar (not the same still) as Google.

      It’s only different if the lists are manually curated – and even then it’s tenuous.

  9. You know. I want to feel bad for the UK’s predicament.


    Up until 30 years or so ago, the highest court in Canada was in the UK. The same could be said for other British Commonwealth countries whose ultimate legal authority was in the hands of people who didn’t actually live where the offense took place.

    So, instead of feeling bad, I shall break out the popcorn and enjoy this bitter irony as the UK gets to taste some of its own medicine. Remember! Hand-over-heart as the American flag gets raised!

  10. If you guys over there are going to be living under US laws, I think it’s only fair that you get to elect your own lawmakers to congress, and participate in the next presidential election.

  11. Considering that Copyright in the UK is a civil matter, why is this going through a criminal court?  On what grounds do the US have to steal a subject of the Queen?  

    The whole thing is retarded, which would be fine, if it didn’t result in the incarceration of a man who is clearly not a criminal. Seriously, who cares what the treaty says, JUST SAY NO! What are the US going to do, airstrike? This is a bureaucratic issue, and our judges apparently care more about paperwork than they do about justice.

    1. If you think judges care about justice, you don’t know much about the judicial system. Judges uphold the Law; in this case, they upheld the treaty lawfully ratified by the legislator. 

      It’s not for the judge to throw out a crap law; certainly not this judge,  being, as he is, at the first level of review. The Supreme Court might do it, IF the case ever gets there; but looking at the McKinnon saga, I wouldn’t count on it ever happening for this treaty.

      The current crop of idiotic, camera-friendly “legislators” should step up, grow a pair, and throw out the treaty… but they prefer to keep that US conference circuit warm and friendly, for when they’re ready to step down, so hey.

  12. If British citizens can be extradited to call under US laws, how long is it going to be until we start taxing them without representation?  We should put a tax on their tea, see how they like that!

  13. Arresting and extraditing this guy for providing only links to copyrighted material is like arresting the owner of a lead mine because his lead was used to make bullets that killed someone.

    1. At the very least, your analogy should be the guy who made the bullets. There are some legal uses for bullets, but it’s not quite as general-purpose as metal. He compared himself to Google, and Google is more like the lead mine in terms of how general-purpose the search engine is.

      However, if the guy was tried and let off by a UK court, it’s bullshit to extradite him to another country just because that country might find him guilty.

  14. The difference between this and insulting the king of Thailand or what-have-you seems clear: those things aren’t crimes in the west. In this case, a U.K. judge has apparently ruled that what the guy did is a crime in the U.K. as well as the U.S  (however stupid the underlying law is). So *extradition* isn’t really the problem, per se, but rather the outrageous thing he’s being extradited for.

    The ‘assymetrical treaty/imperialism’ angle might be a bit of a red herring, a distraction from the worse problem of outrageous punishments for things like linking to torrent sites or trivial hacking offenses.

    1. Good points.

      Maybe I’m fuzzy and mistaken here, but hasn’t O’Dwyer already been found to be not guilty in the UK? That’s what makes the extradition case to the US so interesting.

      Update: Here’s the relevant snip from the BBC article.

      Speaking before the hearing, Mr O’Dwyer said he was “surprised” when police officers from the UK and America seized equipment at his home in South Yorkshire in November 2010.

      However, no criminal charges followed from the UK authorities.

      Why? Emphasis mine. I really don’t understand why he’s not being tried in the UK, and found either guilty or not guilty in his country of origin. Maybe I’m missing something.

      But yes, beyond that matter, your broader points are absolutely right.

      1. He’s not being tried because the only previous attempt at prosecuting a website linking to copyrighted material was thrown out  by judges at the first hurdle. Basically, there is no law forbidding such activities in the UK.

        The judge in this case sidestepped this by stating that, since *in his opinion* some damage was inflicted by O’Dwyer’s actions to US property, then he should be tried in the US regardless of his status in the UK system. Which says a lot about the judge’s mindset, really, but that’s hardly a surprise for the UK.

    2. No, he didn’t commit any crime in the UK.

      Extradition is the real problem. Like with McKinnon, we have a British citizen who did *not* commit a crime under British law, but might have to answer for his actions to a “superior” country.

      Copyright or no copyright, it’s an abhorrent state of things and must change. It makes UK citizens subject to any US law, making the country de-facto equal to a US protectorate (i.e. a country where US law rules, but citizens have no representation in the US congress).

      Thank you, Mr. Anthony “Tony” Blair, for your enlightened foreign policy. I hope you really believe in all that Catholic mumbo-jumbo, because you certainly earned quite a lot of valuable real estate in a nice region of hell.

      1. Are you not reading what he did? As far as I understand, what he did is criminal both in the USA and in the UK. As in any civilized country.

        Now, I’m generally very critical of the absolutely ridiculous compensation requests and unreasonable punishment for sharing music etc. The amounts of money that record companies etc ask for copyright infringement are just silly. But it seems to me that this guy was actually trying to make money with other people’s music, it was systematic and pre-meditated, he knew well what he’s doing. What he did could be used and exploited not only in the UK but in all countries (except North Korea, that being a country where he did not commit a crime).
        This is not about one country being superior.

        1. The really terrible thing about it is the idea that what he did is a crime in the US specifically because he used the .com TLD. It’s so easy to mix this up with the subsequent injustice of extradition, but that is the fundamental absurdity of the story.

        2. He posted links to illegally redistributed material under copyright. This is not a crime in the UK (charges against him were dropped, and the only previous prosecution in history similar to this one was thrown out by judges).

          So the fact remains: he is a UK citizen living in the UK who didn’t break any UK law, and he’s being extradited to respond of his actions to a foreign country.

          It’s like a US citizen was being extradited because he insulted the Queen or broke one of the umpteen silly laws about the British monarchy.

          I’ll leave it to others to judge whether what he did is a crime under US law (but if the “google defense” keeps losing, why nobody has really tried to go after Google? double-standards, eh?).

  15. The ruling an be found here:

    It’s written quite plainly (and, I have to admit, reading it changed my opinion somewhat).

    1. Great link. The challenges considered were:

      1) the legality under UK law (conclusion: illegal in both terriories)
      2) passage of time (conclusion: no reason to prevent extradition)
      3a) Human rights (conclusion: not relevant except in extreme cases, this isn’t extreme)
      3b) Revelant forum (conclusion: offence caused in both territories.  Since no one in the UK could be arsed to prosecute, we’ve got to let the Yanks have a go)

      There’s a lot of room for appeal, especially since the judge didn’t seem particularly emphatic about point 1 or point 3. 

      Point 1 rests on the untested accusation by the Americans that because he controlled the links, he ‘made available’ the content rather than  being a ‘mere conduit’.
      The ruling seems rather contradictory since the judge quotes UK precendents that ‘make available’ means actually supplying the stuff, as done by the file locker and not by tvshack.  The judge quotes rulings that compare it to a financial adviser and a bank, where the financial adviser controls the link to a money source, but the bank makes the money available.
      Then in the next paragraph he says, “yeah but no but it’s probably illegal yeah?” (I may be paraphrasing here, but I think my wording is more internally consistent than the actual ruling).

  16. this is what happens when you use a .net domain… it gives the US @holes jurisdiction over you no matter where you are…

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