Sheffield student faces 10 years in jail for ‘breaching copyright on website’

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An “excellent” student wanted for alleged infringement of copyright in the US could be jailed for up to 10 years if he were convicted in the country, his lawyer has said.

Richard O’Dwyer would also face pre-trial imprisonment in a US federal detention centre as a foreign national with no ties to the country, Ben Cooper told Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London yesterday.

“Mr O’Dwyer is a young man yet to complete his degree and his social environment would be removed from him,” he said.

“That is going to impact on his reaction to finding himself surrounded by the sort of people who will inhabit a federal detention centre in New York. He would be a fish out of water in such an environment. One cannot underestimate the risks that would pose to him.”

Mr O’Dwyer, 23, a Sheffield Hallam University undergraduate, is fighting extradition to New York where he is wanted to stand trial on charges of copyright infringement and conspiracy to infringe a copyright over his website TVShack.

The US government has alleged the site offered free downloading and streaming of thousands of copyright films and television programmes without permission from copyright holders.

Mr O’Dwyer earned money through hosting advertisements on the site, allegedly receiving more than 230,000 US dollars (around £147,000) in advertising revenue since January 2008, according to the US authorities. Mr Cooper argued TVShack did not store any copyright material but merely pointed users to other sites where they could download films and TV shows.

His website linked to other websites in the same way as Google and Yahoo operate, he argued, and people were not able to view a film from TVShack directly.

Mr Cooper added that his client would be the first British citizen to be extradited for such an offence and he would effectively become a “guinea pig” for US copyright law.

“His personal development will suffer greatly from being dragged out of university to face pre-trial incarceration in the US when he could remain on bail pending the resolution of a domestic prosecution,” he said.

He accused the US of delaying proceedings against Mr O’Dwyer in order to gain a “tactical advantage” over him by allowing time to obtain evidence from “co-operating witnesses”.

But John Jones, for the US authorities, told the court the victims of the alleged offences included the film studios, and said the website highlighted the savings that could be made in cinema tickets.

Judgment on whether to extradite Mr O’Dwyer has been reserved until Friday January 13 at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.