Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales petitions to stop student O'Dwyer extradition
JIMMY Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has launched a global campaign to try and stop the extradition of a British student to America.
Richard O’Dwyer, 23, is wanted by the US for alleged copyright infringements after running a website that provided links to pirated films and television shows.
Mr Wales said the case was an “outrage” and has set up an online petition calling on Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to halt his removal.
He said Mr O’Dwyer, a computer science student at Sheffield Hallam University, is the “human face” of the battle between the interests of the film and television industries and the public.
He added: “Given the thin case against him, it is an outrage that he is being extradited to the US to face felony charges for something that he is not being prosecuted for here.
“No US citizen has ever been brought to the UK for alleged criminal activity that took place on US soil.
"From the beginning of the internet, we have seen a struggle between the interests of the "content industry" and the interests of the general public. Due to heavy lobbying and much money lavished on politicians, until very recently the content industry has won every battle.”
It came as Mr O’Dwyer revealed how he is trying to carry on with his studies despite the case hanging over him.
"I think about it sometimes during the day, but I try to think about other things that are more important,” he said.
“I don't let their extradition warrant ruin my life. Otherwise you'd fail university, just sit in your room all day moaning. They'd be winning if I let it do that."
Mrs May approved the extradition of Mr O’Dwyer in March after District Judge Quentin Purdy rejected his claims that he would not get a fair trial in the US.
The student faces up to 10 years in a federal prison for operating TVShack for three years until December 2010.
If he was prosecuted in the UK he would face a maximum of six months.
His is the latest in a string of controversial extradition cases involving America including that of Gary McKinnon, an Asperger's sufferer who hacked into computer systems at the Pentagon.
Mr Wales said: “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.”
The petition has been launched on change.org – a website that previously 2.2 million signatures for a campaign to prosecute the killer of Trayvon Martin in the US.
TVShack did not host pirated material itself, but acted as a directory of links to video streams hosted elsewhere on the web. US prosecutors allege that Mr O'Dwyer made about £146,000 from selling advertising on the website.
His case has already received cross-party support among MPs and his mother, Julia, has said her son had been “sold down the river by the Government”.
He was arrested at university in November 2010 and while he was later told any UK investigation would not be pursued the US applied for his extradition.
The student remains in the UK pending an appeal to the high court.
A Home Office spokesperson said: "We have effective, fair and balanced extradition arrangements with the US and other international partners.
"People who have committed serious offences such as murder, rape, other sex crimes and fraud, have been successfully extradited to the UK and convicted.
"It should also be noted that our courts have refused to extradite nine people requested by the US since 2004, while US courts have not refused any of our extradition requests."
Last night, the petition had already been signed by more than 5,000 people within hours of being posted online.