Just linking could get you 10 years in jail

So you live in another country, say somewhere in Europe, maybe, oh I don't know, England. In your perambulations around the Internet you find a load of stuff that interests you and you think "Hmmm, other people might be interested in this, I'll share it online."

You build a Web site that just lists the links ... and links are the only thing on the site ... and you turn it loose.

Next thing you know, your domain name is seized by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the various United States government agencies are trying to extradite you so you can be prosecuted for "violations of Federal criminal copyright infringement laws", a crime that could send you to prison for 10 years!

Sounds ridiculous? Well, that's exactly what has happened to Richard O'Dwyer, a 24 year old British citizen who is a student at Sheffield Hallam University in England.

In 2007 O'Dwyer set up a Web site, TVShack.net, listing links, nothing else, no copyrighted materials at all, and included the disclaimer "TV Shack is a simple resource site. All content visible on this site is located at 3rd party websites. TV Shack is not responsible for any content linked to or referred from these pages." The site also noted that it was hosted in Sweden.

On June 30, 2010, ICE seized seven domains, including O'Dwyer's TVShack.net, for "violations of Federal criminal copyright infringement laws" and alleged the sites were "involved in the illegal distribution of copyrighted movies and television programs over the Internet".

Particularly telling that the seized sites were cited as "linking websites" providing "access or links to other websites where pirated movies and television programs are stored". In essence, the charges are for linking. Not for distributing pirated content, but for simply pointing to another site where pirated material might be found.

What, I suspect, made The Man ("The Man" being U.S. authorities prodded into action by, no surprise, the Motion Picture Association of America) go after O'Dwyer was that he was making money from advertising on his site (U.S. authorities claim his site earned advertising revenue of something like $230,000 since January 2008).

What is totally insane about the charge that O'Dwyer's site was infringing anyone's copyright is it was just a list of links ... a list of links much like one that you might get from Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Will any of those companies be hauled into court for the same charge? I think not.

Should O'Dwyer be extradited to the U.S. (in March this year the UK Home Secretary very unwisely approved extradition, but the case is currently in appeal) and is found guilty the consequences will be biblical. Tweet or post to Facebook a link to some site that is considered to infringe someone's copyright, and you could find yourself and or your company liable.

This case is attracting a lot of attention not just because of the potential for a real miscarriage of justice, but because it will have a profound chilling effect on free speech and openness. A major campaign by Demand Progress and supported by Wikipedia and its founder Jimmy Wales is underway to pressure the UK, through public opinion, to not allow extradition.

I can't encourage you strongly enough to sign the petition ... if O'Dwyer is prosecuted and found guilty, we all lose.

Gibbs is free, for now, in Ventura, Calif. Voice your support at backspin@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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6 Comments

Jordan

1

Funny because I know of this admendement in the constitution, hmm what admedement was that? I know it was a very important one. So important that it is first in the constitution.

BV

2

Playing Devil's Advocate here. Think of it this way. You run a free service that points potential clients to people that can do the work they need done. Fine, right? The jobs people need done are murder, arson and weapons smuggling. You make a couple bucks selling soda and snacks in the lobby of your little office. As much as I hate it, he was assisting people in their desire to break the law, and making money from it.

Cameron Ward

3

BV, the fact is was that this Man lived in a country where he was breaking no law. Yet through the bullying of the US of A, they extradited him from UK to stand trial in the United States where he had never stepped foot.

The music and movie industry is buying polititicans in the states adn stating demands. 10 years in jail is more than what you would get for armed robbery or assault.... or better yet manslaughter. Think about it. You wouldn't want to be sitting in the US and have some other country extradite you for breaking a law in a place that you've never been before.

Evil Creamsicle

4

I'm an American, and while I love my country, this is embarrassing. Seriously.

Just because the internet is 'accessible' in the US means nothing. The accused has not been to, and was not in the United States at any time, that I am aware of, and the site is not hosted in the United States. We have absolutely no business to attempt prosecution, then, under any United States law.

@BV

5

Except he wasn't murdering anyone.

Also, he isn't even a US citizen. The US has no jurisdiction, the UK, where the man lives, or Sweden, where it was hosted, should have told the US to bugger off.

Shane

6

I imagine, BV, that actual criminals - especially those who'd regularly commit "murder, arson and weapons smuggling" - wouldn't take kindly to somebody telling everyone where to find them.

But what these kinds of cases do reveal is that while we ordinary punters still think of nations as sovereign and independent, whoever's telling US and UK law enforcement when to jump and how high doesn't feel the same way.

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