Saturday, 17 December 2011


Richard O’Dwyer – The Wider Implications.

There is deep concern about the broader implications of the Richard O’Dwyer Extradition case and how it could lead to the US government controlling the activities and flow of information on the World Wide Web.  Please read the following information and look further into this matter in order that the members of both Houses can be made fully aware of how allowing this case to be tried in the US is not only a breach of Richard’s human rights but it also opens the floodgates for any user of the Internet in the UK to fall under the jurisdiction of US law and face extradition.

The US defence in this case is that Richard has allowed a crime to be committed by providing the targeted “linking” on the site, that many of the adverts on the site were aimed at the US market, and that Richard had used a .net domain to register his site, which has to be registered via the US domain registration organisation, therefore purportedly falling under US jurisdiction. 

Richard did not store any illegal material on his website server, which was based in the UK, nor did he encourage anyone to use his site or condone the downloading of illegal material.   The links work very much like any search engine, such as Google, returning the top results based on most popular links clicked.  Nevertheless, as the current extradition treaty with the US does not allow forum, therefore not allowing the case to be assessed for trial in this country, he now finds himself facing up to 10 years in a foreign prison that is showing increasing disregard for human rights, where he wouldn’t even be able to benefit from the support of his family and friends.

The same fate could, theoretically if a precedent is set, await over a quarter of our young people who could face direct US copyright infringement charge; this is reportedly the largest  demographic  of Internet users who admit to having “illegally” downloaded or shared a movie or music and every single one of them could face a US prison sentence or end up paying financial penalties to US companies.  

Given the alleged nature of the crime, this request is a flagrant abuse of the original intention of the Extradition Treaty, which was to help simplify the process of the extradition of suspected terrorists; even the broadest of imaginations could not relate “linking” to a terrorist act.  This confirms that any form of control that provides broad sweeping powers to the US government will be abused, and any precedents set will not be isolated cases.  In light of that, the above hypothetical scenario does not seem so far-fetched or so far away in the future.

Two recent bills passed by the US Senate and Congress threaten to stifle the free flow of information on the Internet and place the US as the World’s judge and jury on what is copyright and what constitutes an infringement.

The Protect IP Act, was introduced to the US Senate in May 2011, coincidentally shortly after the decision to seek an Extradition warrant for Richard O’Dwyer.  Its stated goal is of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to "rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods" and provides for enhanced “enforcement against rogue websites operated and registered overseas”.    It was passed in the Senate but Senator Ron Wyden placed a hold on it stating concerns over possible damage to freedom of speech, innovation, and Internet integrity, a fear mirrored by organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and Human Rights Watch.  Opposition to the bill has also been met by many of the US global technology giants who, in a letter to Congress signed by 130 technology entrepreneurs and CEOs, amongst them Google, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Twitter, expressed great concern that the law in its present form would "hurt economic growth and chill innovation in legitimate services that help people create, communicate, and make money online”.  Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt likened the proposed bill to the censorship framework used in China and fears the US could be heading for its own “Great Firewall” and the separation globally of the Internet into highly monitored and centrally censored “Intranets”.

An even more recent sister bill to the Protect IP Act, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), was introduced to the US Congress on 16th November 2011.  It builds on the proposals of the Protect IP Act and calls for streaming of illegal content to be a felony act.   The bill would authorize the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders against websites outside U.S. jurisdiction accused of infringing on copyrights of US businesses, or of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.   Gary Shapiro, the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association said it "attempts a radical restructuring of the laws governing the Internet" and that "it would undo the legal safe harbors that have allowed a world-leading Internet industry to flourish over the last decade [and] would expose legitimate American businesses and innovators to broad and open-ended liability.”

The definitions written in the bill are so broad that any US consumer who uses a website overseas immediately gives the US jurisdiction the power to potentially take action against it, which puts at serious risk any UK business with US traffic.  The language of SOPA is so broad, the rules so unconnected to the reality of Internet technology and the penalties so disconnected from the alleged crimes that this bill could effectively kill e-commerce or even normal Internet use. The bill also has grave implications for foreign relations and international laws and is sure to cost countries decades in court challenges; in these days of severe austerity that is something we all wish to avoid.  It would mean the end of open-source software projects and freeware sharing and would create a huge increase in the use of identity-masking solutions, such as proxy servers.

It is suggested that Richard O’Dwyer is being used as a test case for the US to gauge how easily foreign nations such as the UK would be willing to give up its citizens to comply with a law that is undeniably highly stacked in the favour of large corporate (US) monopolies, and leaves the world wide open to excessive application or abuse of these laws from future malignant US leaders.  

Richard faces a maximum of 10 years in a US prison for “linking”, something that has previously been successfully argued to not be a crime in the UK.   If we allow him to become the guinea pig for the US censorship bills we are paving the way for many many more cases of our young people facing a very bleak future being US bars and a world where the US decides what we are allowed to see and know.  This is not why Tim Berners-Lee gave away his code for free for everyone in the world to use as he/she sees fit. 

The Internet is not the property of the US government, it belongs to everyone and no one.  We must fight with every ounce of strength to ensure that we do not lose the freedoms that the Internet has given to the peoples of the world. 

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