It seems that US anti-piracy bodies could be seeking to extradite international website owners for copyright infringement, regardless of the level of connection the owners have with the US.

If you’ve been following the extradition case of UK student Richard O’Dwyer, then it may appear that extradition agreements between the countries have been encroaching on questionable territory. O’Dwyer used to operate a website called TVShack which linked to other websites that contained pirated versions of films and TV shows. He closed the website following a visit from UK police and US officials last year, but his extradition is still being sought by the US, even though the server wasn’t based in the US and no copyrighted material was held on the website.

And in a report in the Guardian today, Erik Barnett, Assistant Deputy Director at the US’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), confirmed that UK website owners could face extradition to the US on piracy charges, irrespective of whether the operation has any link to the States AND even if the activity in question is perfectly legal in the UK.

It appears that whilst ‘.com’ or ‘.net’ domains are typically viewed as ‘global’, all the connections are routed through Virginia-based Verisign, and ICE believes this may be a sufficient enough connection to merit prosecution in the US.

Whilst ICE will continue to focus its efforts on sites that actually host and stream pirated material, as the O’Dwyer case has highlighted, it’s also targeting websites that link to pirated content. And in the UK, the only known similar case was thrown out by a judge in February last year, when the now-defunct TV-Links.co.uk won its case in court.

Barnett gives an interesting analogy to prosecuting linking websites:

“A lot of drug dealing is done by proxy – you rarely give the money to the same person that you get the dope from. I think the question is, are any of these people less culpable?”

Some may argue that the main difference here is that drug-dealing – by proxy or otherwise – is illegal everywhere. As the TV-Links case shows, linking to pirated content probably isn’t illegal in the UK, so why should this be prosecutable in the US? And even if it was illegal in the UK, surely it should be dealt with in the UK, especially when the connection with the US is so tenuous.

Some people may also draw parallels with Gary McKinnon, a Scottish systems administrator who has been fighting extradition to the US for the best part of ten years for reportedly hacking US military computers. Though in this instance, it could be argued that at least there is a direct link between the perpetrator and the US.