Background^ back to top
Richard O'Dwyer, a 23 year old Sheffield University student in his third year of a BSc (Hons) Interactive Media with Animation course. About 3 years ago, by way of a project/hobby, he designed a website (TV Shack.net) where people could search for, and be directed via links, to films as well as news, documentaries and soaps which they could watch online. Over time the website grew popular among his friends. Soon, through word of mouth, the site became even more popular. Two online advertising firms then approached him to place ads on his website, to which he agreed. Richard was paid according to the number of 'hits' on his site. The advertising interest soon snowballed with over £100k finding its way into his bank via Paypal over a three year period. Then on (June 2010), out of the blue the ICE shut down his site – so Richard reopened with a different domain name.
Richard was, at all times, resident and based in the UK, as were his computers. None of his servers were in the US and he did not direct his website to the US. The website itself held no infringing content, merely acting as a search engine/linking site like Google, Bing etc .
In cases similar to this prosecuted in the UK and Europe, the defendants have been found not guilty. In addition the European Directive on Electronic Communications indicates that when a website is a mere conduit it cannot be held to be in Infringement. Yet nonetheless, the US are seeking to remove him from his University studies and extradite him for these alleged offenses.
The Allegations^ back to top
Richard is charged with two counts under US copyright legislation: one of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and one of criminal infringement of a copyright. The maximum penalty under each count is 5 years imprisonment under US law.
Richard does not deny that he owned and ran the TV Shack website which provided links to other websites from which films could be viewed for free. However he does deny that providing a linking facility (just like Google) violates either the US or UK's copyright legislation, and therefore is not an extraditable offence.
Nonetheless, the US government is seeking his extradition on the basis of a criminal complaint alleging 2 counts.
Subsequent Events^ back to top
On 29th November 2010 the City of London Police called to Richard's University accommodation in Sheffield and took him for questioning over his website. There were two Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents present.(not present at interview just hanging around) The US were publicly declaring their clamp down on alleged copyright infringement over the internet.
In questioning Richard cooperated with the Police, who took his computer and laptop and bailed him to go to Snow Hill Police Station in London on 23rd May 2011. The ICE agents shook his hand and told him that they wouldn't be pressing for him to be extradited. Yet on his arrival at Snow Hill in May, he was told the criminal investigation in the UK had been dropped . He was then immediately rearrested under a US extradition warrant and faces his extradition hearing in October 2011.
Richard's mother, like that of Gary McKinnon, has been tireless in her efforts to demonstrate the disproportionate efforts of the US government to extradite her son. Whilst acknowledging that Richard was naive in setting up TVShack.net, she vehemently refutes the necessity for prosecuting him in the US, demonstrating that were there sufficient evidence of a crime, Richard should be tried in this country, where the 'crime' was commited.
Political Dimension^ back to top
The Home Office is about to announce the findings of its Review, set up in December 2010 of the extradition legislation. There has been much public concern that there are no effective barriers to extradition, given the lack of judicial consideration of the correct forum for trial, and the fact that the US does not need to provide prima facie evidence of a crime.
Richard is hoping his Sheffield MP (Paul Blomfield) and his Bolsover MP (Dennis Skinner) will help reignite debate in Parliament about the draconian effects of this legislation.
Whydisrupt a student's degree and incur considerable cost to the public purse in order to rap the knuckles of a hobby internet site developer by forcibly removing him to the US, when his site had no connection to the US and the copyright infringement allegations, if accurate, could be prosecuted in this country?
Timeline of Events^ back to top
- 12 September 2011 – Richard returns to Westminster Magistrate's Court for further interim hearing in his extradition case.
- 14 June 2011 – Initial extradition hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court – Richard granted bail, hearing adjourned until September.
- 23 May 2011 – Richard rearrested under US extradition warrant, charged with 2 counts of copyright infringement
- 29 November 2010 – City of London police arrest Richard in his bedroom at his University accomodation in Sheffield.
- 30th November 2010 Richard closed down TV Shack.cc himself. The domain name was later seized and forfeited.
- June 2010 – Richard reopened his site under the name of TVShack.cc .
- June 2010 – The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents of the ICE, acting on behalf of the Motion Pictures Association of America, shut down TVShack.net. The domain name was seized and later forfeited
- Jan 2008 – Richard established TV Shack.net.