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Obama washes hands of O’Dwyer piracy extradition case

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President Obama has said he has nothing to do with the decision by US authorities to extradite British student Richard O’Dwyer on copyright charges for linking to pirated content.

On Tuesday, Obama took part in a Google+ hangout and answered questions submitted and voted on by the public. The top-ranked question, given the thumbs up by 2,073 people in the debate, concerned the O’Dwyer case, and came from the delightfully named Michael Mozart in Connecticut:

“Why are you personally supporting the extradition of UK citizen Richard O’Dwyer for solely linking to copyright infringing works using an extradition treaty designed to combat terrorism and to bring terrorists to judgment in the USA?”

Obama denied that he was personally supporting the extradition, and said that the final decision has nothing to do with him, but that it was up to the Department of Justice to make a judgement in the case. O’Dwyer faces a lengthy prison term for running the TVShack website, if found guilty.

“We want to make sure that intellectual property is protected, we want to make sure that the creative works of people in this country aren’t expropriated, but we want to do it in a way that’s consistent with internet freedom,” he said. “We’re going to keep on working on it.”

Despite Obama’s Pontius Pilate–like attitude on O’Dwyer, Obama did give some hope to those opposing the SOPA and PIPA legislation, saying that any copyright protection legislation must not harm the basic openness of the internet. The White House had come out against SOPA for just this reason, he said, and had asked legislators to take another look at the proposed laws.

The president also faced direct questioning over the US government’s attitude to the H1-B visas that are so beloved by the technology industry. Texan Jennifer Weddel explained that her husband, a semiconductor engineer, had been unable to find a job in three years, so why were we allowing firms to bring in foreign workers?

Obama said that industry was telling him that there weren’t enough qualified engineers to fill the posts available, and he wanted her to send her husband’s resume to him personally so he could tout it around those companies saying they needed to import skills.

The Google+ hangout was billed as a chance to put questions directly to the president, but curiously he chose not to respond to the issue raised by 18 of the 20 most popular queries, which covered drug policy. While some of the questions were obviously astroturfed, it was interesting to see how far politicians aren't prepared to go with digital democracy if it means answering difficult questions. ®

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