The world’s police force target Sheffield Hallam student

By Alex Greig

Westminster Magistrates Court last week allowed the extradition of a Sheffield Hallam University student to the USA. Richard O’Dwyer, 23, is accused by US authorities of infringing on copyright through his website, TVShack, which hosted links to pirated films and television programmes. Should the extradition go ahead, he could face up to five years in jail.

O’Dwyer’s defence claimed that the website did not itself store copyright material, but simply directed users to sites which did, therefore making it similar to a search engine. When asked in an interview if he felt he had done wrong in creating his website, O’Dwyer merely replied, “I think you should ask Google the same question.” In essence, Google is doing what O’Dwyer does, but “on a much grander scale.” This being the case, the extradition seems extreme, let alone the potential five-year jail sentence. Unsurprisingly, it has been claimed that the TVShack creator is being used as a ‘guinea pig’ by the US – he is the first to be prosecuted under this relatively new law.  The mere redirection of visitors hardly seems a valid claim for up to five years in jail. Other recent five-year sentences discoverable through a quick Google search include: drug dealing, money laundering ($1,000,000) and threatening the act of terrorism. Should O’Dwyer receive his full potential time this would be excessive: the relaying of Internet users to other sites is menial in comparison to these other crimes.

O’Dwyer’s mother said that Clegg and Cameron needed to “pull their fingers out” to get the extradition law fixed. One great worry (and a point argued by the defence lawyers) was just how out of his depth O’Dwyer will be. He is a 23 year old who, it appears, did not quite grasp what his website meant in relation to law. When asked if he resented setting up the website he said “not at all, it’s helped me, to no end, in my studies”. Maybe Louis Theroux Behind Bars is distorting my views somewhat, but American prisons seem, for want of a better phrase, pretty hardcore, and here we have O’Dwyer, who hasn’t even finished his degree yet, potentially about to be thrown into one.

The case was originally brought to light alongside the claim that TVShack earned over $230,000 from advertising before the domain name was seized by Americans back in June 2010. One cannot help wondering whether this case merely comes down to money. When viewed as such, O’Dwyer’s moves seem highly entrepreneurial. The site’s income averaged at about £15,000 per month, an astounding feat considering it merely acted as a doorway to other websites. Quite why the TVShack creator is being put on trial, and not the websites which it linked to, is hard to pinpoint. The cynic in me can’t help concluding that it’s merely got something to do with the aforementioned handsome sum.

TVShack is most likely not illegal under UK law (not that we will find this out – the UK haven’t bothered to prosecute). So what exactly gives the Americans the right to prosecute within our country? They don’t own the Internet, after all. Unfortunately, our government gave them the privilege, signing a treaty allowing them to do this. Cynics will claim that it’s another example of the yanks trying to take over the world. The haters’ case is aided by the notion there is no apparent evidence that what was being linked to by O’Dwyer was solely American produced. It will be interesting to see whether he is prosecuted for the sum of the website’s content or merely the American content. I hope that it is not the former, and that we do not discover that this treaty has created a pseudo police force, prosecuting in the name of others.