I find the case of USG v Richard O’Dwyer quite disturbing. It has hit the British media over the matter of extradition, and a weak agreement between Britain and the US. But having gone carefully through the judgement, I feel this is only part of the story. It looks to me like a cynical manoevre by the US copyright industries, notably the Motion Picture Association, which represents the powerful Hollywood studios. Mr O’Dwyer is a pathetic pawn in a much bigger game to get a legal precedent in the EU. My feeling is that this case could be leading up to ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement) implementation.
The case of USG v O’Dwyer concerns alleged copyright infringement using a website which linked to streamed movies held on other sites and servers. The website in question was called TVShack. Its domain name was seized by the US government in June 2010, but the site continued to operate using a non-US domain, for a further 6 months. The US government has filed for the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer, and his extradition hearing was held yesterday at Westminster Magistrates Court in London. The request was granted, meanig that he could be extradited from Britain to the US on charges of copyright infringement.
The case has similar characteristics to other copyright trials in terms of the substance. But in another way, it is quite different from other high profile Internet trials such as The Pirate Bay or Wikileaks.
The Pirate Bay had 20 million users, which would make it a powerful advertising platform were it in the mainstream. Its clever and gutsy founders had a kind of ‘Robin Hood’ reputation which gained a public profile, and an entire political movement behind them.
Wikileaks’ Julian Assange got a £1.5 million book deal, which, one must assume, provided funds to pay his high profile lawyer, Mark Stephens.
Richard o’Dwyer by contrast, is young and (based on the information in the court judgement) seemingly a bit naïve. He is the son of a retired doctor in the north England, and his mother is reported by the Daily Mail to be liviing in a 400,000 house. O'Dwyer will have much more limited scope to raise the enough money to pay the very high legal fees that his case will generate.
Richard O’Dwyer’s website, TVShack, according to the court judgement, had only 185,500 page views per month, which is not a big website ( large websites count their page views in millions). The claimed revenue of £230,000 over an unspecified time period, and the alternative claim of £15,000 per month, does not suggest that this was a significant commercial operation. Indeed, on the basis of the facts available, TVShack appears rather small beer in comparison with the mainstream movie or television companies.
It is probable that copyright industries who advise USG had checked all of this out before the extradition request was filed.
In picking on a small site, with not much money to pay legal fees, they hope for an easy win. Indeed, on the basis of the information available in the judgement, they appear to have got the extradition granted on the basis of some quite weak evidence.
The question you may rightly ask, is why? If we put the O’Dwyer case into the wider legal context of EU copyright policy, with the IPR Enforcement directive and E-commerce directive reviews underway, ACTA coming up for consent in the European Parliament, and measures in the US SOPA law under consideration by Ofcom, we can see how Hollywood may want a show trial.
I think that they may be particularly targetting the criminal measures in ACTA, and they may be trying to establish a criminal ruling on linking. If all the small infringement cases like this can go through the criminal justice system, it will save the copyright industries a lot of money in civil law suits.
On the other hand, it means the money comes out of the public purse. Tax-payers, not the film studios, will pay for future TVShacks to be sued. In the recessionary climate in which we find ourselves, the case of USG v Richard o’Dwyer should be wake-up call for governments on copyright policy.
You may re-publish my article under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, United States government v Richard O’Dwyer: a political manoevre by Hollywood? www.iptegrity.com 16 January 2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.