By Christopher Williams, and Andy Bloxham
A British student is facing extradition to the United States and up to five years in jail for running a website that offered links to pirated films and television shows.
Richard O’Dwyer, 23, a computer science undergraduate at Sheffield Hallam University, is accused of criminal copyright infringement by US authorities.
The case comes amid deepening concern over Britain’s extradition treaty with the United States, which allows suspects to be handed over without the courts considering the evidence. A Home Office review was started in September in response to the outcry over the attempted extradition of Gary McKinnon, a computer expert with Asperger’s syndrome who hacked into Pentagon systems to look for UFO technology.
Mr O’Dwyer appeared at a preliminary hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court this week. Until last November he ran TVShack, a popular website offering lists of links to other websites that carried unlawful copies of the latest Hollywood blockbusters and television hits such as The Hangover and Lost.
Mr O’Dwyer’s mother Julia, from Chesterfield, said her “quiet” son was initially arrested and questioned last November, when police officers arrived unannounced at his student accommodation with two US agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement department.
He answered bail on May 23, when new charges were laid. Before his family could pay the £3,000 bail, he was handcuffed and spent a night in Wandsworth prison.
Mr O’Dwyer is opposing extradition and his legal team will argue that any criminal prosecution should brought in Britain, as TVShack was not hosted on American servers.
Ben Cooper, Mr O’Dwyer’s barrister, told the court: “The server was not based in the US at all. Mr O’Dwyer did not have copyrighted material on his website; he simply provided a link. The essential contention is that the correct forum for this trial is in fact here in Britain, where he was at all times.”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the web address TVShack.net last July. Mr O’Dwyer moved it to TVShack.cc, but in November that address was also seized. His mother said he shut down the site after being contacted by police.
The website is now host to an official warning against copyright infringement.
Mrs O’Dwyer added: “They should stop any extraditions to the US until they have finished reviewing the act.”