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UK student faces extradition to US after piracy case ruling

Possible five years in US federal prison for linking

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A 23-year-old student is facing extradition to the US, and possibly five years in a federal prison, after the British courts ruled he should face charges of copyright infringement for linking to websites hosting pirated content.

Richard O’Dwyer, a computer science student at Sheffield Hallam University who had never even left the North of England before his arrest, set up the TVShack.net website in 2007. It hosted no content, but linked to sites that showed world television programmes illegally - or enabled their download. The US government claims in June 2010 it was the 1779th most popular website in the world, and that O’Dwyer made over $230,000 from advertising revenues as a result.

When TVShack.net was shut down, as part of a coordinated action, O’Dwyer set up a mirror on the .cc domain, and included the title “F*ck the Police” and a photograph of NWA. O’Dwyer gave evidence that TVShack “worked exactly like the Google search engine… (it)…. directed users through the use of searches to websites… at no point was there any infringing material, such as movies or programmes on my server. It just directed users to other websites by providing the link”.

The US legal request states that he’ll face a maximum of five years in prison if found guilty, and will serve at least 85 per cent of his sentence, as well as “any post conviction and post sentencing confinement Mr O’Dwyer might be subject to in the U.S. federal prison system”.

In his ruling District Judge Quentin Purdy rejected the defense arguments that extradition would be disproportionate to the crime, or that too long had passed since it had occurred, and said that there was sufficient criminal law on both sides of the Atlantic to have him shipped off to the US. She did give him leave to appeal to the High Court.

“I’m very disappointed, disgusted really,” his mother, Julia O'Dwyer, told BBC Radio 4 outside the court. “I’m not saying we don’t need extradition for murderers, but not for copyright.”

O’Dwyer is being extradited under controversial laws agreed by Tony Blair in the wake of the September 11 attacks – then billed as essential to the war on terrorism - which are currently being used to try and extradite Gary McKinnon on hacking charges. Under the terms of the deal US authorities have only to show “reasonable suspicion’ of a crime, while UK requests have to come with proof.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has promised a review of the legislation, but given the speed with which he dropped his support for Garry McKinnon once the Liberal Democrats got a sniff of power, no-one’s holding their breath. ®

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