TVShack Admin Fights Extradition To U.S. On Movie Piracy Charges

Three weeks ago the 23-year-old UK-based administrator of a TV show and movie links site was arrested by police. The site, referred to only as TVShack, could be one of three domains of which two are already controlled by the US government after their seizure as part of Operation in Our Sites. Following his detention in the UK's largest prison, the admin is now fighting his extradition to the U.S. with the help of Gary McKinnon's lawyer.

While the second phase of the U.S government’s Operation in Our Sites grabbed the most headlines when it targeted around 80 domains in November 2010, the roots of the program began several months earlier.

The first phase of the operation took place in June 2010 and resulted in the seizure of seven domains including TVShack.net, Movies-Links.TV, FilesPump.com, Now-Movies.com, PlanetMoviez.com, ThePirateCity.org and ZML.com.

Despite its domain seizure TVShack proved resilient, skipping from its .net to a new .cc domain and becoming fully operational within days. In time though, that URL was also taken over by the U.S. authorities.

However, some time later another TVShack site appeared, TVShack.bz. While some insisted it was the old site back under a new name, others claimed it to be a mere clone operated by different people. Whatever the truth, a disturbing picture is emerging around one of those sites, one that attempts to sidestep established copyright law and raises worrying jurisdiction issues.

Richard O’Dwyer is a computer science undergraduate studying at a university in the north of England. Originally from Chesterfield, the 23-year-old now stands accused of being the administrator of TVShack. It is not clear whether he is accused of running .bz, .cc, .net, or a combination of the three, but nevertheless he now faces the fight of his life.

Despite TVShack’s status as a links database that never hosted any copyright material, 3 weeks ago O’Dwyer was arrested by police and detained at Wandsworth Prison, the UK’s largest detention facility.

And now in a quite shocking development, authorities are demanding O’Dwyer’s extradition across the Atlantic to face copyright infringement charges in the United States.

Ben Cooper, a lawyer specializing in human rights and extradition issues, is representing O’Dwyer. He says that since O’Dwyer is a UK resident who ran a links site with a non-US server, any trial should take place on home territory, not thousands of miles away in the United States.

Cooper, of Doughty Street Chambers, is also representing alleged hacker Gary McKinnon in his fight against extradition to the U.S. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This week, following a preliminary hearing before City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, the notion that O’Dwyer should be extradited to the U.S. was described as “madness” by his mother.

“We have a perfectly good justice system in the UK – why aren’t we using it in cases such as this?”

According to David Cook, a lawyer who successfully defended an alleged uploader to the now-defunct music tracker OiNK and an administrator of the BitTorrent forum FileSoup, the answer to that question may be found in a case which came to its conclusion last year.

“In 2010, the rights-holder groups attempted the prosecution of the TV-Links website. As the name suggests, this site was effectively a directory to TV programmes that sourced programmes uploaded to other video websites, such as YouTube. The users of the site would find a TV show they liked, and then placed a link on TV-Links to other sites which were hosting episodes of that show,” Cook told TorrentFreak in a comment.

“It was argued that TV-Links was operating as a ‘mere conduit’ and that an EC based defence was open to them. Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament defines an ‘Information Society Services’ as one that offers a service normally provided for remuneration, at a distance, by means of electronic equipment and for the processing and the storage of data, and at the individual request of a recipient of a service.”

“This is a definition so dense as to be almost impenetrable,” Cook adds. “It was held in TV-Links that this definition covered their site.”

The ruling by Judge Ticehurst in favor of TV-Links meant that its operators had a complete defense in criminal proceedings in England and Wales for their linking to other web sites. They walked free.

All indications are that TVShack, in all of its guises, operated in a similar manner.

“We have been waiting to see how the rights-holder prosecutors would react [to the failed cases against TV-Links, OiNK and FileSoup] and have now been given the clearest sign,” Cook notes.

“The extradition of O’Dwyer is being sought and, if successful, he would be moved from a country in which he has a defence, to one in which such a defence would not apply,” says Cook. “Is this the sole purpose of the extradition?”

O’Dwyer has yet to enter a plea. He is set to appear in court again on September 12th.

Update: A petition was started to stop Richard O’Dwyer’s extradition.

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