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Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Law Is Not Gumby: Why Extraditing Richard O'Dwyer Is A Ridiculous Proposition

In a case that can only be described as bizarre, the United States is demanding that a British website owner be extradited to the U.S. because of the activities of his sites prior to them being shut down by the U.S. government.

Richard O'Dwyer started TV Shack, a website which provided links to material subject to U.S. copyright laws. His initial domain was shut down last year under their Operation In Our Sites campaign. So Mr. O'Dwyer started a new one, which was seized again by U.s. authorities. Afterward, he abandoned the idea and moved on with his life as a Sheffield Hallam University student until he was arrested 3 weeks ago and released on bail. Why? The United States wants Richard O'Dwyer extradited to be charged for copyright infringement because Americans accessed his website.

 Naturally, Mr. O'Dwyer, his family, and attorney are perplexed as to the legality of extraditing a man to a nation not his own for alleged crimes which are not against the law in his homeland. The student has never had any physical connection to the U.S., and all of his servers were his own. He didn't even host any copyrighted content, save for his own written word, and merely provided links to the material of others. Websites which post links to content have been found to be legal in British courts on a number of occasions, (Including this nearly identical instance.) and I think that the U.S. is grossly overstepping their boundaries here.

The people who accessed Mr. O'Dwyer's website were Americans accessing foreign servers, not the other way around. U.S. law has no jurisdiction in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, otherwise you could be arrested when you're vacationing in England for drinking when you're 18 (English law) instead of 21 (U.S. law) or jailed for smoking a joint while vacationing in the Netherlands. When you access foreign servers, you are electronically visiting the host nation, which is why the U.S. government can technically bar you from visiting sites hosted in nations that you are barred from visiting in person, like Cuba for example.

Moreover, loads of people and corporations link to copyrighted content all of the time. I'm not saying it's a great thing, but it occurs. I've found links to copyrighted content on search engines like Google and seen it hosted on numerous video-sharing websites. If you're going to arrest a guy for providing links, you're going to have a whole bunch of nerdy kids sitting in the cooler.

The U.S. needs to reserve its scarce resources for prosecuting people for real crimes committed within their own borders instead of trying to pull kids who have never even stepped foot on U.S. soil out of their homes. The kid may have had a limited understanding of U.S. law, but wasn't breaking the law where he resides. If the U.K. justice system wants to make an O'Dwyer exception and find something to convict him of there, so be it, but the U.S. should have no part of it.

You can't go to a foreign country either physically or virtually and then haul a foreigner away for breaking one of your laws. The Saudis can't go to Canada and arrest the owner of a legal porn site for producing dirty pictures despite the fact that porn is illegal there and the U.S. can't have Richard O'Dwyer extradited for posting links in England.

If Richard O'Dwyer is sent to the United States to face trial and is sentenced to serve a sentence, it will be one of the grossest examples of injustice one could imagine. To be taken away to a foreign land for a non-crime is a violation of international law. If the British government caves and sends a college kid away to an unfair punishment, it sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world that nobody is safe from whatever laws a nation wishes to impose on others.

Even the notion that such a thing is possible should make each and every one of us feel a little less safe from the octopus of the law.

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