Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Long Reach of U.S Copyright Law

Hew Griffiths has a wikipedia entry (here), although I imagine he wished he didn't. Here is part of the entry (the entry also has links to new stories on him):

Hew Raymond Griffiths ... has been accused by the United States of being a ring leader of DrinkOrDie or DOD, an underground software piracy network. Griffiths was living in ... Australia before he was placed on remand at [an Australian] Detention Centre. After fighting extradition for almost 3 years, Griffiths was finally extradited from Australia to the United States and on February 20, 2007, he appeared before Magistrate Judge Barry R. Portez of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. On April 20, it was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice that Griffiths had entered a plea of guilty. His case is of interest in that he is an Australian resident who has been indicted by a court in Virginia for copyright infringement and conspiracy to infringe copyright under the US Code. ... Griffiths... had never at any point physically left Australia since arriving in his adopted country at an early age [from the UK]. [T]he Australian courts and executive government have agreed to treat Griffiths' activities as having taken place in US jurisdiction. The case therefore highlights the serious consequences for Australian internet users who are charged with pirating US copyright-protected material. Griffiths' extradition was very controversial in Australia. The matter ... has been cited as an example of how bilateral arrangements can lead to undesirable effects such as a loss of sovereignty and the introduction of draconian measures. On the other hand, increased enforcement internationally through heavy criminal sanctions is seen as an effective way of protecting legitimate distribution networks. ... The case is further complicated by the fact that a conspiracy was alleged, most of the overt acts of which, and most of the members of which, were based in the United States, giving rise to an argument that the US was the most suitable place for prosecution. Nevertheless, it may be that the close relationship between Australia and the United States, exemplified in the AUSFTA and other bilateral activities, made extradition more likely. On June 22, 2007 Hew Griffiths was sentenced to 51 months in prison for conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. It is noted he will only serve an estimated 15 months as the courts are granting him time served for the three years in Australian custody. ...

There are many noteworthy things about the case. One is that Griffiths is reported to have been willing to plead guilty to violating Australian law and serve time in an Australian. This would have been an entirely appropriate resolution; the question for me is not whether he should have gone to jail, but where and for violating which country's laws. It hardly ends the matter to say U.S. law, through conspiracy counts, reaches activity that occurred overseas if done in conjunction with activity in the U.S: under U.S. copyright law one is not secondarily liable for acts committed overseas in encouragement of direct infringement in the U.S., and vice versa (on the vice versa, see Subafilms v. MGM, 24 F.3d 1088 (9th Cir. 1994).

It is of course up to the Australian government to decide how to handle extradition requests; in this case, the decision was, as wikipedia notes, controversial.

I am off to London tonight for a week and will likely not post until next Thursday.

1 comment:

Max Lybbert said...

I understood that the US generally didn't extradite people from their home country. It's a bad thing if the US has changed that policy.