Digital Legal

TVShack operator to avoid US extradition

By | Published on Friday 30 November 2012


The British student facing extradition to the US for running a website that provided links to unlicensed streams of TV shows has seemingly successfully overcome that threat by reaching an out of court agreement with the American authorities, that will see the defendant agree to pay damages to affected copyright owners.

As previously reported, Richard O’Dwyer ran TVShack, a website that provided regularly updated links to where users could find TV shows that had been uploaded, mainly without licence, to YouTube-style services. Sites like TVShack – and another UK-based one called TV-Links – became useful once user-upload sites started properly responding to takedown requests from the TV industry.

On most video-sharing sites unlicensed content is constantly being taken down and then re-uploaded by other users, though if you just want to watch the latest episode of ‘Family Guy’, navigating all that is a major arse. Sites like TVShack mean users can visit one website which will link them to the latest uploads which are still live.

The existence of such sites made the whole takedown system less effective, so rights owners started targeting the link sites too, claiming their operators were liable for contributory or authorising infringement. Although UK-based with a website hosted in Sweden, O’Dwyer was targeted by the US authorities. In probably his biggest mistake, he ignored a cease and desist from the American government, moved his site to a new domain and carried on regardless. Until UK police and US representatives showed up at his door. Extradition proceedings, to force O’Dwyer to face copyright charges back in the US, followed.

Operators of sites like TVShack always say that they don’t actually host any infringing content, and therefore cannot be held liable for any infringement that occurs when a user clicks on one of their links. In most jurisdictions that’s not an especially effective defence – such linking services are considered to constitute contributory infringement – although there are exceptions.

But even if there was a civil case for O’Dwyer to answer, it’s debatable whether there is a criminal case against the student; criminal liability would depend very much on his motivation and how commercial his operation was. In the UK attempts to prosecute the operators of infringement-assisting websites have had mixed results. And anyway, O’Dwyer’s supporters, including Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, have stressed, even if there was a criminal case to answer, why in the US?

Nevertheless, the extradition proceedings continued, with Home Secretary Theresa May rubber stamping the American’s application back in March. However, as O’Dwyer’s lawyers pursued every appeals process available, they also continued to negotiate with the American prosecutors, leading to this week’s deal.

According to the BBC, O’Dwyer has signed a provisional agreement, which his mother Julia O’Dwyer will complete in the US. It’s not clear why the US authorities, which initially seemed adamant that O’Dwyer should face the charges against him in an American court room, have had a change of heart, though Wales’s high profile support and petition, signed by quarter of a million people, may well have helped.

Loz Kaye, the boss of the UK Pirate Party welcomed the deal, telling Torrentfreak: “This decision vindicates the Pirate Party’s view that the extradition request was disproportionate and unnecessary all along. It does not remove the underlying problem though. The US can not be allowed to be the copyright cops of the world. I hope that Richard and Julia O’Dwyer will be able to begin to rebuild their lives now”.