Earlier this year, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales added instrumental support in the internet's successful fight against the U.S. government-backed Twin Bills of Terrible known as SOPA and PIPA. For his second act, Wales is hoping he can once again use the internet to galvanize supporters in both the public and the government to take up the cause of U.K. student Richard O'Dwyer's impending extradition to the United States.
Richard O'Dwyer, 24, if you recall, was arrested in November 2010 in London on charges that his website, TVShack.net, was violating copyright law because it hosted links to pirated TV shows and movies - just links, mind you, and not the actual content. Although O'Dwyer has never lived in the United States and none of his servers were hosted in the United States, a U.K. judge nonetheless ruled that O'Dwyer should be extradited to the United States to stand trial. The charges against O'Dwyer carry a (jaw-dropping) maximum of ten-year sentence.
Anonymous has already targeted the website of the U.K Home Office as a response to (among other reasons) O'Dwyer's impending extradition to the U.S. More personally, O'Dwyer's own mother has spoken out against the United State's imminent domain-like seizure or her son and the site he ran, calling on activists to save the internet from the U.S.
Wales met with O'Dwyer earlier this month and subsequently created a petition on change.org yesterday to further increase awareness of O'Dwyer's extradition. Wales' petition was released concurrently with an opinion piece in the Guardian. In both pieces, Wales makes an impassioned plea for support from the internet as well as reason from the government bodies that are currently threatening O'Dwyer's quality of life.
The internet as a whole must not tolerate censorship in response to mere allegations of copyright infringement. As citizens we must stand up for our rights online.
When operating his site, Richard O'Dwyer always did his best to play by the rules: on the few occasions he received requests to remove content from copyright holders, he complied. His site hosted links, not copyrighted content, and these were submitted by users.
Copyright is an important institution, serving a beneficial moral and economic purpose. But that does not mean that copyright can or should be unlimited. It does not mean that we should abandon time-honoured moral and legal principles to allow endless encroachments on our civil liberties in the interests of the moguls of Hollywood.
Richard O'Dwyer is the human face of the battle between the content industry and the interests of the general public. Earlier this year, in the fight against the anti-copyright bills SOPA and PIPA, the public won its first big victory. This could be our second.
Wales is right to stand up for O'Dwyer but it's a shame that additional persuasive ambassadors of the internet have not come forward to support O'Dwyer's case. Wales accurately compares O'Dwyer's site to Google in that it merely provides a space for people to post links to videos that are hosted somewhere else on the internet. Google has argued a similar defense of its online video service, YouTube, in that it cannot be responsible for what the users of the service upload (although YouTube is actually hosting real content as opposed to mere links that forward users to other sites). Google has even proffered its two cents in similar piracy cases, such as it did earlier this year by submitting an amicus brief in the Motion Picture Association of America's lawsuit against Hotfile, a file-sharing site.
If Google believes that it is lawfully protected by the "safe-harbor" provision provided by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act and that Hotfile is likewise protected, there's no reason why O'Dwyer shouldn't be protected by the same provision (nor is there any reason why Google couldn't make another interjection in O'Dwyer's case the way it did with the Hotfile case).
In the meantime, hats of to Jimmy Wales for helping broaden the attention on Richard O'Dwyer's nigh-Kafkaesque legal nightmare.
As of writing this, Wales' petition to the UK Home Secretary has collected 28,353 signatures (it actually increased nearly 2,000 in the time it took me to write this article) of the 35,000-signature goal.