“Linking to” vs. “Hosting” illegal content. Is the US going too far?

Image of justice

Photo: mira66

I was listening to the radio this morning and learned about Jimmy Wales‘ efforts to stop the extradition of UK citizen Richard O’Dwyer to the US to face criminal charges in relation to alleged copyright infringement. A related article “Wikipedia’s founder calls for Richard O’Dwyer extradition to be stopped“, was posted in The Guardian this past Sunday, on June 24, 2012.

Not on US soil, only a US-registered domain name

The allegations relate to O’Dwyer’s website whose domain name was TVShack.net. This was a website that allowed people to find links to various legal and illegal downloading locations for copyrighted content (such as TV shows).  The site itself did not host any illegal content, nor were any of the site’s servers located in the US.  O’Dwyer did not break any UK laws whatsoever. The website did use a dot-net domain name, and the dot-net domain name registry is located in the US, so the domain name was seized by the registry. The US is seeking to extend its reach past its own borders and lay criminal charges for violation of US law to citizens of other countries. It is particularly heinous in this case because the US is attacking a search engine and claiming that making it possible for people (including Americans) to find the links to illegal downloading locations essentially constitutes encouraging people to download illegal content. Google allows me to find all kinds of links to the location of illegal content that infringes on copyright protection, but the US is not going after Larry Page for “illegal links”.

Trying to make “Links” illegal is the crime

I hope that Richard O’Dwyer’s extradition is stopped and that this case never sees the light of day. The minute the US can extradite people for violating a US law while not being on US soil, and without breaking any laws of the country they reside in (and in the case of the Internet, without having any illegal content on their site or any servers in the US) is not a day that I am happy to see coming.

As far as I am concerned, there is a big difference between linking to other sites that may or may not have content that infringes on copyright and knowingly hosting illegal content on your site.

The mass media’s business models must adapt, but for now they will bully for status quo

This case is merely more evidence of the violent death throes of the Film and TV industries’ iron grip on their business models which are dying in the Internet revolution. It reminds me of the following quote from Clay Shirky‘s book “Here Comes Everybody“:

A culture with a printing press is a different kind of culture from one that doesn’t have them. New technology makes new things possible: put another way, when new technology appears, previously impossible things start occurring. If enough of those impossible things are important and happen in a bundle, quickly, the change becomes a revolution…The hallmark of a revolution is that the goals of the revolutionaries cannot be contained by the institutional structure of the existing society. As a result, either the revolutionaries are put down, or some of those institutions are altered, replaced or destroyed. We are plainly witnessing a restructuring of the media businesses.

Do you think the US is justified in seeking extradition in this case? Do you think that providing links to sites that host illegal, copyright-infringed material should be punished or is it a slippery slope in the wrong direction? I would love to hear your views.

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