Halt extradition of Richard O'Dwyer, says Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales


The founder of internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia has thrown his support behind a campaign seeking to block the extradition of a British student to the US on copyright charges.

Jimmy Wales, 45, came out in support of Richard O'Dwyer, 24, who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of charges relating to his website, TVShack.net, which linked to other sites that streamed pirated television programmes.

Mr O'Dwyer's supporters argue that as the site did not host material itself he should not face any charges and should therefore not be extradited.

Mr Wales, in a petition on the Change.org website, said TV Shack was "similar to a search engine".

Mr Wales, who has met Mr O'Dwyer, called on Home Secretary Theresa May to stop the extradition, which was approved by a district judge in January, calling the interactive media and animation student "the human face of the battle between the content industry and the interests of the general public".

"O'Dwyer is not a US citizen, he's lived in the UK all his life, his site was not hosted there, and most of his users were not from the US," he wrote.

"America is trying to prosecute a UK citizen for an alleged crime which took place on UK soil.

"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."

And writing exclusively in The Guardian, Mr Wales said: "When I met Richard (along with his mother), he struck me as a clean-cut, geeky kid. Still a university student, he is precisely the kind of person one can imagine launching the next big thing on the internet.

"Enthusiastic, with a sharp mind and a quick wit, he reminds me of many great entrepreneurs. He tried to follow the law, and I would argue that he very likely succeeded in doing so."

Mr Wales continued in the newspaper: "Given the thin case against him, it is an outrage that he is being extradited to the US to face felony charges for something that he is not being prosecuted for here. No US citizen has ever been brought to the UK for alleged criminal activity that took place on US soil."

Mr Wales argued that Mr O'Dwyer, from Bolsover in Derbyshire but studying in Sheffield, always did his best to play by the rules, saying that on the few occasions he received requests to remove content from copyright holders, he complied.

"Copyright is an important institution, serving a beneficial moral and economic purpose," Mr Wales wrote.

"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."

It is the latest move by Mr Wales into a political arena.

Earlier this year Wikipedia blacked out the English language version of its website in protest at anti-piracy laws being considered by the US government.

Supporters include the film and music industry, which often sees its products sold illegally. They say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs.

But in a message posted on the website, the Wikipedia Foundation said: "If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States."

Julia O'Dwyer, Richard's mother, said Mr Wales's intervention was a huge boost to their campaign.

"It is obviously quite significant to have Jimmy Wales's support," she said.

"He didn't do that lightly. He spent a lot of time talking to Richard.

"It has concentrated efforts to get the message across to the Government, because it is in their hands."

She said Mr O'Dwyer was due to have an appeal heard at the High Court in October or November this year.

Mr O'Dwyer is one of several high-profile cases of Britons being extradited to the US under a treaty signed in 2003, which critics say is unfairly biased against British citizens.

He told The Guardian that he was coping "quite well" with the threat of extradition.

"It does get in the way, it distracts you... if you thought about extradition all day you'd never get any work done. It'd be a horrible mess," he told the newspaper.

"It's quite difficult but I think I'm managing quite well.

"I think about it sometimes during the day, but I try to think about other things that are more important. I don't let their extradition warrant ruin my life.

"Otherwise you'd fail university, just sit in your room all day moaning. They'd be winning if I let it do that."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We have effective, fair and balanced extradition arrangements with the US and other international partners.

"People who have committed serious offences such as murder, rape, other sex crimes and fraud, have been successfully extradited to the UK and convicted.

"It should also be noted that our courts have refused to extradite nine people requested by the US since 2004, while US courts have not refused any of our extradition requests."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "It is very significant that a giant of the internet has joined the campaign against Britain's dangerously unfair extradition laws.

"The world-wide nature of the web leaves people incredibly vulnerable to being dragged across the world to face trial when they never left their bedrooms, let alone their country.

"We need far more safeguards and judicial discretion if a great deal of injustice and suffering is to be prevented."