With very little coverage, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Justice and Customs Minister Chris Ellison quietly did their bit for US-Australian relations over the weekend by rendering an alleged software pirate unto the American legal system.

After spending nearly three years in prison here pending extradition, Hew Griffiths is settling down to his second night behind American bars. He might console himself with the thought that even David Hicks, alleged terrorist and would-be murderer, is receiving half a nod from the Australian government now, so perhaps in another couple of years, Griffiths might have a chance.

Griffiths’ case was nicely summarised by Richard Ackland in the SMH and the Sun-Herald recorded his Saturday departure, but there’s been little beyond that on another case that seems to show a remarkable degree of Australian subservience to US desires.

Griffiths, 44, migrated to Australia with his family 37 years ago. He has never sought a passport as he has never travelled before. Because he has never sought Australian citizenship, he remains technically British. The Americans provided him with a one-way travel document to face their legal system over copying software.

As legal commentator Ackland wrote:

What is particularly fascinating is that it is possible for Griffiths to be charged with these offences under the Australian Copyright Act. The downloading took place in Australia, and Drink or Die (the alleged piracy conspirators) was not an American group — it originated in Finland where it was known as LA, or Lunatic Asylum, with members around the world.

Griffiths has instructed his solicitors that he would plead guilty to offences under our Copyright Act. He has probably already spent more time in prison than any person convicted of a copyright offence in Australia.

After a series of raids by the US Customs Service, about 60 people were arrested in a variety of countries, including 45 in the US and eight in Britain.

All the British were charged under British laws and the US did not push for extradition. Griffiths is the only person, and the only Australian, in the group that the US is pressing to extradite.

It seems the Australian Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, and his department are only too eager to co-operate.

Sounds more than a little grubby, doesn’t it? There’s been no suggestion Griffith was running a profitable piracy empire – it seems he’s more of a nerd who stills lived at home on the NSW central coast with his aged father.

But what’s one more rendition if it preserves the Howard-Bush alliance? The US gets a 44-year-old computer nerd and we get Dick Cheney for a visit. Cheney is the one who has shot a lawyer.


Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey