Copyright, Cyberlaw, Intellectual Property, Movies, Technology, Television, United Kingdom / Great Britain

Since When Is Merely Linking to Copyrighted Content an Extraditable Offense?

The war on internet piracy currently being waged by entertainment industry lobbyists the U.S. Justice Department seriously puts me in an ideological bind. On one hand, I am a creative person. I understand the need for content creators to be compensated for their work. Whether that means movie producers, musicians, or journalists, the internet has deeply screwed with the compensation structure for “artists.”

On the other hand, that should not be the internet’s problem. The entertainment industry needs to figure out a way to update its outdated business model. Going after every 23-year-old with a few personal servers and high-speed internet is never going to fix the piracy problem.

But that would take a lot of actual work and planning and compromise. In the meantime, it’s business as usual. And that means extraditing a 23-year-old software engineering student from the U.K. who ran the website TVShack, a site which linked to streaming video files.

The kid has never been to the U.S. He did not even break any British laws, but OMG piracy, and woe to all who get caught anywhere near the crosshairs of the American entertainment industry….

TorrentFreak has the lowdown in a story from yesterday:

Richard O’Dwyer

Richard O’Dwyer, the UK-based ex-administrator of the video linking website TVShack will be extradited to the US to face copyright infringement charges. Despite public outrage Home Secretary Theresa May approved the extradition order today. The 23-year-old student has never visited United States, but now faces several years in a US prison.

Last year Richard O’Dwyer was arrested by police for operating TVShack, a website that carried links to copyrighted TV-shows.

Following his detention in the UK’s largest prison, the site owner fought a looming extradition to the US, but without success.

After a UK judge gave the green light to extradite the student two months ago, Home Secretary Theresa May officially approved the request from US authorities today.

For some background, O’Dwyer’s legal troubles are not new. TVShack was shutdown back in 2010. The extradition fight has been going on since last year, despite the fact that O’Dwyer’s servers were stored in Europe and the fact that he’s never set foot in the United States.

What I’m trying to say is, all hail the MPAA. They clearly run this ship. Here are more details on the legal specifics of the case against O’Dwyer:

The extradition is controversial because under certain circumstances merely linking to copyright material isn’t an offense in the UK. In 2010, linking website TV-Links was deemed to be a ‘mere conduit’ of information and its admins were acquitted.

In the US recent court rulings are of a totally different kind. There, Richard O’Dwyer faces the same fate as several other operators of linking sites that were recently on trial.

In January, Ninjavideo founder Hana Beshara was sentenced to 22 months in prison followed by 2 years of probation, 500 hours of community service and ordered to repay nearly $210,000. Fellow admin Matthew Smith received 14 months in prison, two years supervised release, and was ordered to pay back just over $172,000.

I really don’t get this. How is simply linking to “pirated” — or whatever you want to call it — content illegal? Is that the whole reason SOPA was shot down? So that would not be the case?

Because when you carry this to its logical conclusion, any blogger (or Twitter or Facebook user) who links to someone else’s website with content that doesn’t belong to them could face criminal liability. This makes no sense on a practical level.

Just for comparison, this is quite different from the whole Megaupload situation. That site was a “cyberlocker,” which actually hosted streaming videos or other kinds of files. TVShack would link to sites like that, where someone could actually watch allegedly illegal videos.

For the record, the guy who ran Megaupload, Kim Dotcom (I’m not even going to touch that), has not been extradited yet. According to USA Today, Mr. Dotcom is chilling under house arrest in New Zealand, with a $49,000 per month living expenses allowance and use of his 2011 Mercedes. It’s hard out here for a pimp, clearly.

In any case, once O’Dwyer crosses the pond, I’m sure we will hear a lot more about this. I, for one, hope his maiden voyage to the U.S. is speedy and less miserable than it almost certainly will be.

“Pirating” UK Student to be Extradited to the US [TorrentFreak]

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