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Background: How TVShack blazed a trail for illegal downloaders

STUDENT Richard O'Dwyer's TVShack was one of many websites created to help people watch films and television programmes online for free.

Despite the competition, TVShack became many users' first choice.

Its popularity is demonstrated by the US authorities' claim that he has earned 230,000 US dollars (�147,000) in advertising revenue since January 2008.

TVShack.net was one of several sites shut down by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in June 2010 as part of operation In Our Sites.

O'Dwyer's site soon reappeared at TVShack.cc with a domain administered in the Cocos Islands, an Australian territory.

But that version now only features a bold message from the US authorities on a single page, warning that copyright infringement carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

One disappointed user wrote on a forum that they "hope it's not gone forever" while another commented that "it had pretty much every movie and TV show ready to watch". Several Facebook groups were established calling for its return.

Alex Chapman, head of interactive media at law firm Sheridans, said O'Dwyer's case would not be the last of its kind.

"It just highlights the fact that rights-holders are increasingly protective over the rights they have - and rightly so. There is though a difference over a kid in his bedroom putting a hobby site together and the more organised distribution of (copyright) infringed content," he said.

"That said, most piracy that is taking place is kids in their bedrooms."

Mr Chapman continued: "There are all sorts of sites like this that provide access to content that is protected by copyright.

"The legality of putting together a site that provides access to that content is not entirely clear, where all you are doing is making available a link to somebody else who is then providing that content."

He added: "The internet has been built on sites linking to other sites."