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JAN
13
2 YEARS

U.K. Judge Orders Accused Copyright Pirate Extradited to U.S.

The unprecedented move comes as the debate heats up over legislation that might increase the responsibility for U.S. websites to do something about foreign websites hosting pirated content.

TV Shack Richard O'Dwyer Outside Court - H 2012
Getty Images

In a first-of-its-kind case, a judge in the U.K. has ordered that a British student who ran a website that linked to free films and TV shows can be extradited to the United States.

Richard O'Dwyer, 23, is accused of running the TVShack website and earning thousands of British pounds in advertising before a crackdown by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

He's now facing extradition to the U.S., where he would be brought up on charges of copyright infringement and face possible jail time.

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But Ben Cooper, an attorney for O'Dwyer, argues that it's questionable whether his client has broken the law, pointing to websites like Google and Yahoo, which also often point users to infringing content.

At a hearing at the Westminster Magistrates Court this week, Cooper argued against making O'Dwyer a "guinea pig" for U.S. copyright law.

District Judge Quentin Purdy put aside the concerns. "There are said to be direct consequences of criminal activity by Richard O'Dwyer in the USA albeit by him never leaving the north of England," he said in the ruling. "Such a state of affairs does not demand a trial here if the competent U.K. authorities decline to act and does, in my judgment, permit one in the USA."

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The decision comes as the U.S. Congress continues to debate new legislation aimed at cracking down on foreign piracy. Critics of both the "Stop Online Piracy Act" and the "Protect-IP" bills argue that the pending legislation would have worrisome consequences for large U.S. websites that link out to foreign websites deemed to host improper content.

On Thursday, Protect IP co-sponsor Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he is preparing a manager's amendment that would rid the legislation of controversial domain-name blocking, which some critics have argued could threaten the integrity and workings of the Internet.

The MPAA said in a statement that it hoped the change would "help forge an even broader consensus for the bill."

But some vocal critics believe that the promise to drop DNS blocking was merely one to study the issue before coming back to it later.

E-mail: eriqgardner@yahoo.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner