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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

US try to extradite UK student for "copyright infringement" allegedly committed in UK

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Metro has the story of a UK student Richard O'Dwyer, who faces extradition and possible US jail time for alleged copyright infringement on his [UK] website.

O'Dwyer is reportedly on bail, set at £3,000.

When I wrote about problems regulating online content and services across multiple jurisdictions I never dreamed countries would attempt to use extradition proceedings for acts committed on UK soil.

The metro story lists mere hyperlinking to content as the alleged grounds for extradition.

The US-UK extradition pact is already under the spotlight over the Gary McKinnon extradition. Gary was in the UK when he gained unauthorised access to US military systems, an offence he admitted, but claims he should be tried under equivalent legislation in the UK (Computer Misuse Act 1990).

This case lowers the insanity bar to ridiculous levels.  The only case I know about for criminal copyright infringement in the UK that went to full trial (R v Alan Ellis, more below) failed when the defendant argued linking to copyrighted content did not constitute infringement.  He was cleared of one count of conspiracy to defraud.

From the facts available at the time it looks as though we're firmly into the territory of an attempt to make US federal laws applicable in the UK, and this simply must not be allowed happen.

UK authorities and FACT have struggled to find legal options for site operators, although several UK arrests have been made for websites linking to copyrighted content.

Founder of UK website TV-links was arrested in 2007 for "trademark violations". From memory no charges were ever brought UPDATE 17-June-11: It appears a prosecution was brought.  David Cook, a member of the defence team in the TV-Links case, today writes today about the failed prosecution.  Arguably authorities had more success prosecuting operators of torrent tracker OiNK, with four members pleading guilty to copyright infringement, each copping an average 80 hours community service.

However, as mentioned earlier, OiNK administrator Alan Ellis was last January cleared of a more serious charge of conspiracy to defraud when his case went to full trial.  Despite the failure to convict Ellis, the CPS continued with preparations to take a sixth defendant to court on a charge of copyright infringement, but proceedings were dropped amid rumours over the standard of evidence, reportedly supplied by the IFPI (whom I am told are regular readers of this blog).

It's worth noting that it took over 2 years to clear Ellis after his initial arrest in Autumn 2007.  With equipment confiscated and legal uncertainty hanging over him for so long it's not that UK authorities have been soft on this kind of "offence" - it's just that the authorities are finding it hard to find an actual offence to punish "offenders".



  1. The UK-US extradition treaty may be unfair and one-sided, but as far as I know, it does (unlike the European Arrest Warrant) respect the dual criminality principle, so he *should* be able to argue that he shouldn't be extradited as he hasn't committed an offence under UK law. But it is troubling that the US authorities are even trying: probably they think they can get away with it.

  2. Thanks Alex. I'm also concerned because of the apparent land-grab. Copyright laws are regional, and should be enforced on a regional level. But arguing there are "US victims" and attempting extradition is a very worrying development.

  3. Worrying, I would go as far as disgusting. If it is the CPS supporting the extradition request they are either incompetent or worse.


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