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Friday, 7 December 2012

Richard O'Dwyer fined £20k - but what of the "missing" £120k, or did the prosecution exaggerate?

The Guardian this morning reports Richard O'Dywer was fined £20,000 and ordered to undergo 6 months of some kind of US-UK remote probation as part of a deal which resulted in extradition proceedings against Richard being dropped.

Now, I don't blame Richard for accepting a deal in which this blog understands will result in no criminal record for Richard on either side of the Atlantic.  Proceedings against Gary McKinnon dragged on for ten years; the deal allows Richard O'Dwyer to put this behind him and get on with his studies and the rest of his life.

But I have a serious question about the fine, which is reported in the Guardian as (my bold):
He was also ordered to pay the US dollar equivalent of £20,000, which represents profits earned by his website between December 2007 and November 2010. The money will be used to "repay victims whose copyrights were infringed by TVShack", according to the agreement.
Comparing this to Westminster Magistrates' Court records, where the prosecution alleged:
Complaint is made of the operation by Richard O’Dwyer of a website “TVShack.net” by which, in essence, he is said to have enabled the web surfing public free access to copyrighted feature films/ “movies” and TV programmes earning “over $230,000 in advertising revenue”.  The complaint runs from about December 2007 to 29th June 2010 when a U.S.  “seizure warrant” seized the domain name  “TVShack.net”.
The prosecution alleged TVShack received the equivalent of over £140,000 in revenue, yet settled for £20,000 as equivalent to the profits of the venture.

So if the Guardian has got its facts straight here either TVShack had operating costs of £120,000 over 3 years - equivalent to £40,000 per year for what can't be more than a couple of servers - or the figures provided by the prosecution in the extradition request were a gross over-estimate.

Either way the deal, whilst a relief to Richard and his family, is quite distasteful.

"Pay or we'll extradite" is a high-stakes extension of the "pay or get sued" letters about to hit the doormats of 1,000 UK ISP subscribers for paying the internet bill in a house where someone allegedly used the internet to watch porn.

I don't doubt the extradition collapsed because either the prosecution realised its case wasn't as strong as presented to Westminster Magistrates' Court; or the Home Secretary, whilst publicly supporting extradition, realised how unpopular the decision would be and so privately warned the US Attorney General in his visit last month that they wouldn't get their man.

Either way this fine and charade of 6 months remote probation is a face-saving exercise.

We need to ensure that people who commit crimes whilst in the UK are tried in the UK.

And we need to keep a check on the scam forcing people into cash settlements because the cost, stress and risks in clearing their name through the courts are disproportionately higher than the settlement figure.


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