In the two years since U.S. customs and immigration officials came knocking on his dorm room door, Richard O’Dwyer has become something of a representative figure in the fight between Hollywood heavyweights and the Internet.
But a new ally has stepped foward to support the “unlikely poster boy for a culture war.” Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has decided to intervene on Mr. O’Dwyer’s behalf, launching a campaign on Change.org this weekend to stop the U.S. from extraditing him on copyright allegations.
If extradited, Mr. O’Dwyer faces up to ten years in prison. His alleged crime? Copyright violations related to developing a site called TVShack.net, a search engine that linked to online sources to watch TV shows and movies. Mr. Wales is careful to note that TVShack hosted user-submitted links, not copyrighted content. And when Mr. O’Dwyer received requests to remove copyrighted content, he complied.
In fact, as Mr. Wales told The Guardian, Mr. O’Dwyer sounds less like a criminal and more like the next Zuck.
“When I met Richard, he struck me as a clean-cut, geeky kid. Still a university student, he is precisely the kind of person we can imagine launching the next big thing on the internet,” Wales wrote in a comment article for the Guardian.
In his petition, addressed to UK Home Secretary Theresa May, Mr. Wales calls Mr. O’Dwyer “the human face of the battle between the content industry and the interests of the general public.” Saving Mr. O’Dwyer, he argues, would be tantamount to the next “big victory” for “the public,” after successfully defeating SOPA and PIPA.
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. 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.