23-year-old UK citizen Richard O’Dwyer is currently fending off an extradition request by United States authorities. His crime? Setting up and operating a website that offered links to free movies and TV shows.
What makes his case special is the fact that he is not a US citizen, that the servers on which the website was hosted were not located in the US, and that under UK law, his actions might not even be illegal.
The only slight link his operation might have had with the US is the fact that, initially, the site used a US-controlled .net domain, and this fact is used by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency as a reason for requesting O’Dwyer to be extradited.
If the request is granted, he could be charged by an US court with criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy and, if found guilty, could get a prison sentence of up to five years.
On a global scale, such a decision would create a legal precedent that would have heavily affect the ongoing debate on jurisdiction over online crimes and criminals.
“Because so many copyright owners are actually US-based companies, it would basically make US courts the world criminal courts for copyright infringement,” commented Daniel Gervais, a law professor at Vanderbilt University, for ars technica.
Corynne McSherry, EEF’s Intellectual Property Director, is also of the opinion that the final decision on this matter warrants long and hard thinking and the weighing of all implications. She points out that the tables can be reversed, and that US citizens could then also be subject to extradition to other countries after unknowingly breaking those countries’ copyright laws.