Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has launched a signature drive to get the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, to intervene to stop the extradition to the USA of Richard O'Dwyer, who created the TVShack website. TVShack had links to places from which users could download TV shows, and was legal under UK law. The US entertainment lobby has demanded O'Dwyer be rendered to an American court, which may persecute him for violating the law of a distant land. As Wales writes, it's time to stop letting the entertainment industry's priorities define the regulatory regime for the Internet.
Copyright is an important institution, serving a beneficial moral and economic purpose. But that does not mean it can or should be unlimited. It does not mean that we should abandon time-honoured moral and legal principles to allow endless encroachments on our civil liberties in the interests of the moguls of Hollywood.
One of the important moral principles that has made everything we relish about the internet possible, from Wikipedia to YouTube, is that internet service providers need to have a safe harbour from what their users do. There are and should be some limits to this. Under US copyright law, there are notice and take-down provisions requiring service providers to remove content under a properly formatted notification. And there is a distinction between hosting copyrighted material and telling people where it is. The latter is protected under the first amendment.
When I met Richard (along with his mother), he struck me as a clean-cut, geeky kid. Still a university student, he is precisely the kind of person one can imagine launching the next big thing on the internet. Enthusiastic, with a sharp mind and a quick wit, he reminds me of many great entrepreneurs. He tried to follow the law, and I would argue that he very likely succeeded in doing so.
Given the thin case against him, it is an outrage that he is being extradited to the US to face felony charges. No US citizen has ever been brought to the UK for alleged criminal activity on US soil. There is a disparity here that ought to raise concerns at the highest levels of government in both the US and UK.