A UK student has learned that he will be extradited to the US to face copyright infringement charges, after he created a website that helped people view films and TV shows for free.

US authorities claim that 23-year-old Sheffield undergraduate Richard O’Dwyer earned thousands of pounds by linking to and promoting copyrighted content, but he profited not by directly charging users but through hosting advertising on the TVShack website.

The main argument in the student’s defence case was that the site didn’t actually store copyrighted material, and it merely linked users to content held elsewhere, with his lawyer Ben Cooper citing both Google and Yahoo! as examples of other sites that do the same thing. Cooper also claimed that O’Dwyer would be the first UK citizen to be extradited for such an offence and was being used as a guinea pig for US copyright law.

Whilst the final decision is still pending appeals, O’Dwyer faces jail if he’s convicted of the allegations, which came as a result of a crackdown on copyright infringement by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The two charges – conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and criminal infringement of copyright – each carry up to five years sentences.

Police officers from the UK and America swooped on O’Dwyer’s home in South Yorkshire and seized equipment in November 2010, but no criminal charges followed from the UK authorities.

In May last year, however, the US Justice Department requested that Richard O’Dwyer be extradited to the US under the Extradition Act 2003, after the Southern District Court in New York brought two charges against him for copyright infringement regarding his website that was hosted at TVShack.net.

Following the extradition request, O’Dwyer was released on bail by UK authorities, and then he appeared in Westminster magistrates court for a preliminary hearing, at which point his lawyer opposed the ruling, arguing that any prosecution should take place in the UK, as TVShack was not hosted on American servers.

This is a key point of contention in the case. Even without looking at whether what O’Dwyer did was illegal or not, the involvement of US courts has baffled many parties.

The key facilitating factor that has let this case proceed to this stage, is the 2003 US-UK Extradition Treaty, which allows suspects to be extradited to the US without UK courts having to consider the evidence first. Conversely, UK prosecutors must submit their evidence to US courts before making an extradition request. Indeed, this has led to a number of civil liberties groups raising the question about why the UK Government hasn’t pushed to amend the Extradition Act 2003.

Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, has previously said: “Enacting the forum amendment would have been quite simple. It’s not that we’re arguing that in every case where activity has taken place here we shouldn’t allow people to be extradited. But we should at least be leaving our judges some discretion to look at the circumstances.”