It seems the Liberal Democrats are gearing up to oppose the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer. Good. He shouldn’t be extradited; it’s not the asynchronous nature of the Anglo US extradition treaty which is the problem here. In order to be extradited, you need to have a case to answer that you have broken a serious law in both jurisdictions.

O’Dwyer ran a web site that published, it would seem, crowdsourced links to copyrighted entertainment content. This originally had a .net domain, and when this was seized by the US Customs, he transferred his site to the .cc top level domain. .cc does not require a US regulated registrar.

It is alleged that O’Dwyer’s actions contravened the UK’s Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. The following section of the law is quoted in the Westminster Magistrates judgement, delivered by Judge Purdy sitting alone,

“A person who infringes copyright in a work by communicating the work in public
(a) in the course of business, or
(b) otherwise than in the course of business but to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright commits an offence if he knows or has reason to believe that, by doing so he is infringing copyright in that work”.

The Judge states that the EU’s E-Commerce Directive creates a “mere conduit” defence for people who do not “initiate, select the receiver or select or modify the transmission”. This is the defence successfully used by tv-links in the quoted case, R vs Rock & Overton. The judge in that case ruled that linking sites have a “mere conduit” defence. This case was reported widly and at Torrentfreak in an article entitled, TV-Links Triumphs With Landmark E-Commerce Directive Ruling

Judge Purdy in Westminster argues in his judgement that there are material differences,

  • the level of control exercised by O’Dwyer
  • the fact that he acknowledged that many of the links were copyright infringing,
  • and repeats the US Government’s lawyer’s statement that O’Dwyer curated the membership of the site, constraining and enabling individuals to post links to the site. (The Judge uses the word vetted.)

But despite these material differences, if you agree they are material, how the judge gets from the precedent that it depends on,

“making available”

and the Rock & Overton, the TV Links case judgement, which clearly came down on the side that linking is legal because the linker does not “make available” content and gets to,

“I have endeavoured to weigh these subtle distinctions. The diagrams of how as a matter of electronic mechanics (if I may term it) the TVShack websites actually operated favour HHJ Ticehurst’s restrictive construction. To my mind there is much in the distinction factually, always remembering these matters are allegations of conduct which a trial court alone can resolve – that Mr Jones contends between the instant matter and Rock & Overton. I also have in mind the mischief Parliament had in mind. Accordingly in my judgement I am satisfied the conduct alleged in the instant request meets the dual criminality test and would be an offence in this jurisdiction.”

Also in order to remember that a trial court is the place to determine the substance of allegations and their breach of law, different jurisdictions will come to different conclusions.

In conclusion, I make two points,

  • to understand what’s happened here, read the judgement, the judge powerfully quotes Rock & Overton as stating that it is only the content hosting sites that are guilty of infringement, but he finds material reasons not to apply the precedent.
  • reading the BT case judgements, while much longer, the arguments were easier to follow, much more of the law was quoted, and the way the judges came to their conclusions was much clearer. I feel that Arnold and Parker would have explained the legal reasons why the difference in control, the acknowledgement that much content was infringing & site membership curation makes a material difference to the application of the precedent. To me, this is evidence that a Judge with experience of the alleged crime, rather than extradition should have sat on the bench for this one.

It’s not really very satisfactory.

Teresa May has agreed the extradition, so I am not sure what happens next. There is a petition at Julia O’Dwyer’s web site, and they ask you to write to your MP and to David Cameron, the Prime Minister.

The O’Dwyer Case, why we thought linking was legal
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One thought on “The O’Dwyer Case, why we thought linking was legal

  • 2nd October 2020 at 9:12 am

    While considering, the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, where the Campaign Group, due to it’s insertion of a politician in the decision to prosecute, I found an article in the Guardian on the denouement in NYC detailing the final settlement of the O’Dwyer case.

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