Richard O’Dwyer TVShack Case Ends With A £20,000 Fine

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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The student returns to his normal life after a short trip to New York

Richard O’Dwyer, the 24-year old computer science student responsible for the creation of popular video directory, has been ordered to pay £20,000 to copyright infringement victims in order to avoid a trial in the US.

O’Dwyer had been fighting extradition to the US since 2010, after authorities claimed he illegally earned over $230,000 (£147,000) from his website. If he was to be extradited, O’Dwyer could have spent up to five years in prison.

TVShack provided links to copyrighted content, but didn’t host any videos on the website itself, and its servers were located in Europe. The case attracted a lot of attention in the media, and got O’Dwyer many high-profile supporters, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

All’s well that ends well

O’Dwyer travelled to New York of his own free will, after agreeing a deal with a judge that would see him pay £20,000 to compensate infringement victims. As part of the ‘deferred prosecution’ agreement, the student has promised not to break any US copyright laws in the future.

Arrest, court, legal © rimira Shutterstock 2012 O’Dwyer’s website was shut down by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in June 2010. The authorities said that TVShack hosted links to pirated films and television programmes, and the student earned several hundred thousand dollars in advertising revenue.

In March, O’Dwyer’s extradition was approved by the home secretary Theresa May, despite claims by his supporters that he had done nothing illegal under British law. The student appealed the decision, and negotiated a deal through the High Court last month.

“I’m happy it’s finally over. I still maintain I never thought I was committing a crime,” O’Dwyer told the BBC. “I’m glad the US has decided to drop the case. It’s a pity the UK wasn’t able to resolve this.”

“So far as we know this is a first in extradition cases – and a sensible solution for UK defendants faced with an ever-growing extra-territorial reach of US prosecutions,” O’Dwyer’s barrister Ben Cooper said in a statement.

“We need the law changed. It’s great that Richard has been able to avoid extradition, but if UK citizens have done something wrong in the UK, they should be tried here, not extradited,” Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group told TechWeekEurope. “His campaign has been heroic, and we need the results to be translated in protections for everyone against unreasonable extradition requests.”

The case will not result in a criminal record, and the student will be able to travel to US freely in the future.

Other alleged copyright infringers are not so lucky. Earlier this year, Anton Vickerman, the owner of the similar video platform SurfTheChannel, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud by “facilitating” copyright infringement in a British court. He was brought down by private investigators operating on behalf of US and UK copyright holders, and sentenced to four years in prison.

The UK’s extradition agreement with the US remains a difficult topic for politicians. In October, after ten years in legal limbo, Theresa May decided that British hacker Gary McKinnon would not stand trial in the US over the alleged hacking of military networks.

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