Richard O’Dwyer from Barnsley was just 19 when he set up tvshack.net, a website which indexed links to movies and TV shows hosted elsewhere. Whilst O’Dwyer’s own website did not carry copyright material, he has still been charged with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and criminal infringement of copyright. Both charges carry potential sentences of five years each.
Copyright violation is breach of criminal law in the UK, but prosecutions are rare. This didn’t stop Theresa May agreeing to a request from the US to extradite Dwyer, despite a petition in his support which has now reached 225,000 signatures.
Grant Shapps, the new Tory party chairman, ran howtocorp, a company which sells software designed to steal content from other websites and use it to automatically generate websites. This content is ‘spun’, meaning a few words are changed around to fool search engines into thinking that the websites are publishing original content.
It is not known whether this ‘spinning’ would allow the website owners to evade copyright legislation in the UK. At some point a test prosecution is likely to establish to legality of the technique which allows shady online businesses quickly generate hundreds of websites based on other people’s work. These website are used to host advertising (possibly fraudulently) such as Google Adsense.
In the US the legal situation is much clearer. According to this lawyer, a test case has established that the practice is illegal in the US. Shapp’s company, which largely operated in the US despite being based in the UK, sold this copyright violating software for a whopping $297.
There is also evidence that the company used the software themselves to generate Google Adsense revenue from plagiarised content.
It is not known how much money Shapps and his company made from this copyright scam which is arguably just as serious an infringement of the law as the so called crimes that Richard O’Dwyer committed as a teenager. O’Dwyer simply linked to copyright content. Howtocorp not only used copyright material themselves, but made a small fortune from actively promoting copyright violation through their software.
O’Dwyer did not even host his websites in the US, unlike Shapps’ company who registered the website which promoted his software under a fake name. Registering a domain name using a false identity is an aggravating factor in prosecutions of online scams in the US, which can see any sentence doubled or extended by 7 years.
If Grant Shapps were charged with the same offences as Richard O’Dwyer, his sentence would potentially be longer than that facing O’Dwyer. Shapps, or his wife who now controls the company, could be looking at 15 years.
Shapps hasn’t even lost his job for committing similar offences to this young man who is staring into the abyss of the US penal system. This follows revelations last week that two men were jailed last year for Andrew Mitchell style rants at police. Mitchell hasn’t lost his job either. Rarely has the double standard been so self-evident than within this Government of crooks. It really is one rules for us and a quite different one for them. Whilst Theresa May happily condemns a young man to brutal incarceration, Shapps’ shady online practices are swept hastily under the carpet.
Almost every website operated by howtocorp has disappeared offline in the last couple of weeks, suggesting that the company are all too aware of the potential seriousness of their money-making scams. Perhaps most contemptuously, Shapps handed control of the company he founded in 2002 to his wife in 2008. Shapps would far rather see his wife face any potential legal consequences for his company’s actions than have his own cheap suited image dented.
O’Dwyer is not the only person facing legal consequences for running websites which link to copyright material. In the first verdict of it’s kind, Anton Vickerman was sentenced to four years in prison by the UK courts in August for his surfthechannel.com website. Vickerman was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, a charge which will hopefully cause more than a few sleepless nights in the Shapps household.
Richard O’Dwyer is appealing the extradition, you can sign the petition in his support at:
For more details on the case visit: