A STUDENT who created a website which helped people watch films and television programmes for free can be extradited to the US to face copyright infringement allegations, a court ruled today.
Sheffield Hallam University undergraduate Richard O’Dwyer, 23, allegedly earned thousands of pounds through advertising on the TVShack website before it was closed down by the US authorities.
He faces jail if convicted of the allegations, which were brought following a crackdown by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
His lawyer Ben Cooper has argued that the site did not store copyright material itself and merely pointed users to other sites, in the same way that Google and Yahoo operate.
Mr Cooper also claimed his client would be the first UK citizen to be extradited for such an offence and would effectively become a “guinea pig” for copyright law in the US.
His mother Julia O’Dwyer, from Chesterfield, has described the action as “beyond belief” and the UK’s extradition treaty with the US as “rotten.”
But District Judge Quentin Purdy today ruled at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that the extradition could go ahead.
Mr Cooper indicated he would appeal against the ruling.
The judge said: “There are said to be direct consequences of criminal activity by Richard O’Dwyer in the USA, albeit by him never leaving the north of England.
“Such a state of affairs does not demand a trial here if the competent UK authorities decline to act and does, in my judgment, permit one in the USA.”
He added: “I reject all challenges advanced to this request. No bars or other challenge being raised or found, I send the case to the Secretary of State.”
The court heard that O’Dwyer was arrested by police in November 2010 and two of his computers were seized.
In interviews, he is said to have accepted owning TVShack.net and TVShack.cc, earning approximately £15,000 per month from online advertisements hosted on those sites.
The judge said he was satisfied that the alleged conduct would constitute an offence in UK law.
He added that the prospect of a serious criminal trial was “obviously alarming” and went on: “Trial abroad in any foreign land is, plainly, even more daunting.
“However, enforcement of cross-border criminal justice is intended, in part at least, to ensure alleged victims of crime and the wider public confidence in criminal justice is not thwarted by national borders.”
O’Dwyer showed no emotion as the ruling was made.
His mother, Mrs O’Dwyer, criticised the UK’s extradition treaty with the US. Speaking outside the court, she said: “If they want to prosecute something they will. There’s no safeguards here for British citizens. How can the US government be allowed to ruin a young student’s life when similar cases brought in English courts show that what they allege is not illegal here?
“Both prosecution and defence counsels agreed in court that Richard had a strong argument to defeat the extradition request. We will look to appeal to a higher court without delay.”
She added: “I’m disappointed with this Government for signing us up to this treaty, which has opened the floodgates to America to come and seize British citizens without even having set foot out of this country.”
O’Dwyer added: “I am obviously disappointed with the judge’s decision today.” He said the website had “helped me no end with my studies” and said when he first set it up he “didn’t even think it would get that popular.”
Asked if websites that link to other sites should be open to prosecution, he replied: “I think you should ask Google the same question.”
The campaigning group Liberty later added to the pressure on the Government.
Co-ordinator Sabina Frediani said: “Everyone is vulnerable under the current rotten extradition regime – it takes key decisions out of the hands of British judges, leaving our children exposed to the injustice of instant extradition.”