Why Is The Justice Department Pretending US Copyright Laws Apply In The UK?
from the insanity dept
We already mentioned the attempt by the US to extradite Richard O’Dwyer, a UK student who ran TVShack.net and TVShack.cc, both of which were seized by ICE. Unfortunately, most of the press reports out of the UK lacked details, and I wasn’t even entirely sure that an actual attempt at extradition had been made, or if there was just fear on the part of the O’Dwyer family. After some digging, however, it appears that this is absolutely the case. The Justice Department, out of the Southern District of NY — the same DOJ offices that have been involved in the ICE seizures — and ICE, via the US embassy in London, made the request to extradite O’Dwyer. I’ve now heard that from three separate sources. I also called the folks in the press office at the US Attorneys’ office in SDNY to see if they were willing to respond to questions about the attempted extradition, and the answer is they don’t want to talk about it at all. I believe the two quotes were “there is nothing in the public record we can comment on” and “there is no additional guidance we can give you,” though they did offer to send me the press release they sent out when they helped seize the TVShack domains. Helpful.
Now, let’s be entirely clear here. Dwyer has not violated UK law. Pretty much everyone agrees on this. In our initial post, we discussed a few similar cases in the UK that showed such site administrators were not liable. UK legal experts have been saying that what O’Dwyer did is legal in the UK as it matches up almost entirely with previous cases where people doing nearly identical things were found to have not violated the law.
So this is a massive jurisdictional and sovereign disaster waiting to happen. Basically, the US appears to be claiming that if you do anything on the internet, you’re subject to US laws. That’s crazy and is going to come back to haunt US law enforcement. Do they not realize that this is the same thing that other countries have tried to do to US citizens? The US even passed a law, the SPEECH Act, to make it clear that US citizens were not subject to the liability of other national laws, just because such things happen on the internet. To then turn around and pretend the opposite is true for everyone else is just massive hypocrisy.
Separate from all that, it’s highly questionable if O’Dwyer is even violating US criminal copyright law, because there is no such thing as contributory criminal infringement (there is for civil copyright law, but it’s nowhere to be found in criminal law).
Effectively, it appears that the US government wants to seize someone and drag them across the ocean to face federal charges for doing something that was (a) perfectly legal in his home country and (b) probably legal in the US. Do they not see how that might create some issues?
Honestly, this seems like the latest in a long series of massive screwups by ICE and the DOJ in the Southern District of NY, who appear to have rushed into the whole “copyright enforcement online” arena without bothering to understand the technical, legal and political issues involved. What they’ve done here is create an international incident, for which there will undoubtedly be ramifications. I’ve heard that while O’Dwyer is fighting the extradition, many suggest that it’s effectively a done deal, that the UK government has agreed to the extradition without any scrutiny of the actual charges. I’m embarrassed that my country would make such a request in the first place, and shocked that the UK would merrily go along with it, sans scrutiny. It’s gone beyond exporting our IP laws through treaties and diplomatic pressure to the absolutely ridiculous stance that the US government can (1) make up their version of copyright law and then (2) automatically apply those made up laws around the globe.