Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has made a rare political intervention to call on British Minister of Home Affairs Theresa May to stop the extradition of British student Richard O’Dwyer to the US for alleged copyright offenses.
Launching an online campaign, Wales said O’Dwyer, 24, was the “human face” of a global battle over the interests of the film and TV industries and the wider public, which came to a head in the global outcry against proposed US legislation laws the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which, if passed by the US Congress, would crack down on copyright infringement.
O’Dwyer, a multimedia student at Sheffield Hallam University in northern England, faces up to 10 years in a US prison for founding TVShack.net, a crowdsourced site linking to places to watch full TV shows and movies online.
“When I met Richard, he struck me as a clean-cut, geeky kid. Still a university student, he is precisely the kind of person we can imagine launching the next big thing on the Internet,” Wales said in a comment article for the Guardian.
“Given the thin case against him, it is an outrage that he is being extradited to the US to face felony charges for something that he is not being prosecuted for here. No US citizen has ever been brought to the UK for alleged criminal activity that took place on US soil,” Wales said.
“From the beginning of the Internet, we have seen a struggle between the interests of the ‘content industry’ and the interests of the general public. Due to heavy lobbying and much money lavished on politicians, until very recently the content industry has won every battle,” he added.
What charges does O’Dwyer face?
Two: criminal infringement of copyright and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. Each carries a maximum prison term of five years.
Is copyright infringement illegal under UK law?
People can only be extradited for acts illegal in both countries. In the UK, copyright violations are an offense.
What is O’Dwyer’s defense?
O’Dwyer cannot present an in-depth response to the allegations. The US has only to prove he has a case to answer for alleged actions that are illegal in both jurisdictions.
What are the controversies about US/UK extradition?
Campaigners have suggested the US/UK treaty, signed in 2003, does not require a formal forum test to judge the best jurisdiction in which to hear a case and reduced the requirement for the US to provide prima facie evidence for prosecution to reasonable suspicion.
“We, the users of the Internet, handed them their first major defeat earlier this year with the epic SOPA/PIPA protests, which culminated in a widespread Internet blackout and 10 million people contacting the US Congress to voice their opposition. Together, we won the battle against SOPA and PIPA. Together, we can win this one, too,” Wales said.
Wales was at the forefront of the campaign against the SOPA and PIPA bills aimed at enforcing online copyright more vigorously, which many warned would threaten sites at the core of the Internet: Google, Wikipedia and others. With other senior editors, Wales set aside for the first time Wikipedia’s vaunted principle of neutrality, blacking out the online encyclopedia for a day as a warning of the consequences of too-strict copyright enforcement.
On Saturday, he launched a petition on change.org, an international campaigning Web site which garnered 2.2 million signatures for a campaign to prosecute the killer of Trayvon Martin in the US.
Wales’ petition called on May to stop O’Dwyer’s extradition. Under UK law, May must grant permission for extraditions to proceed, so she is able to stop extraditions without recourse to the courts.
O’Dwyer’s cause has already attracted cross-party support in the UK from prominent MPs, including Liberal Democrats President Tim Farron, the chair of the home affairs select committee, Keith Vaz, and liberal Conservatives such as David Davis and Dominic Raab.
Other US extraditions, such as those of alleged computer hacker Gary McKinnon and the NatWest Three, have led to calls for reform of the US/UK extradition treaty.
O’Dwyer was arrested by City of London police, accompanied by US customs officials, in November 2010. Six months later, he was told the UK investigation into him would not be pursued, but that he faced extradition to the US.