One-way traffic for UK-US extraditions

A British student may be extradited to the US over alleged internet piracy. Experts say even if he were found guilty at home he would face a fine. But events could take a much worse turn for him in America thanks to a treaty signed in the Blair era.

­These are very anxious times for Richard O’Dwyer and his family. The university student is facing possible extradition to America for alleged copyright infringement.

He ran a website providing links to pirated videos. It was not a problem for British authorities, but Richard is a wanted man nevertheless.

“It was just awful. Frightening, you know, because if Richard had done anything wrong, we were quite happy for him to be responsible for that in this country, where he was at all times,” Richard’s mother Julia O’Dwyer told RT.

“They told us the criminal investigation in the UK had been dropped so it was like a bit of a sigh of relief, but in the next sentence they said we have got an extradition warrant to America, and we must go to the court immediately. I thought he was going to be extradited that day,” she added.

Their case is now being heard at this magistrate’s court in London – the latest chapter in Julia’s struggle to keep her son at home.

Richard’s website TVShack was a free signpost to pirated content, including the latest Hollywood blockbusters. None of it was actually provided by him, but that does not matter to America. It says the site breached their copyright laws and claims he is theirs to punish because the site’s lucrative advertising was aimed at US consumers.

This is the court where Richard O’Dwyer’s fate will be decided. It rides on whether or not his actions are considered to be a crime in the UK. The trial was his last chance to put forward his defense. Now it is up to the judge to decide.

But according to digital law experts, the decision is not a tough one to make.

“It's quite possible that he's only guilty of a civil offence and that offence is something he could potentially get fined for,” explained Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights group. “And it's clearly a UK case as well, since he was doing this in the UK. It's not really any case for him to be extradited to the United States. It's not clear he was infringing copyright in the United States at all,” he pointed out.

Britain signed the extradition treaty with America in 2003. Nearly a decade on controversy still surrounds it. The US can extradite whoever it wants without proof or hearing – privileges which are not reciprocal for the UK.

The treaty was a “must change” for the government while in opposition, but a recent review it commissioned deemed the treaty still fair. Several leading MPs refuse to agree though, with the Common’s Home affairs committee calling for changes.

“It was a mistake in the first place. It is not a level playing field. Even with a partner like America, we need to make sure that we are being equal and we are being fair to our citizens, and that is not the case at the moment,” maintained Keith Vaz, a British MP from the home affairs select committee.

Opposition against the extradition treaty is growing in Westminster. Dissenting MPs have just forced through a debate on it later this month. And the parliamentary review on it is due in the New Year.

All this though may be too late for Richard; he has just two weeks until he learns whether America will get what it wants.