The news of Hew Griffiths case appears to have “slipped the local radar,” The Age notes. You can say that again. Griffiths, was a key Australian member of the international software piracy (or “Warez”) group, DrinkorDie. DOD was notorious in the ’90s for releasing copyrighted software for free, prior to their official release — their triumph was probably beating Microsoft to the punch on Windows 95.
The group was rounded up in a series of simultaneous international raids in 2001, gathering up members in the US, Russia, Australia, the UK and Scandinavia. All of those arrested who were subsequently charged were brought to trial for copyright violation in their own country.
The exception was Griffiths, whom US Customs has been pursuing for years, alleging — on the evidence of a warez-pirate-turned-informer (and paid $100/hour) — that he was the co-leader of the group. Griffith spent more than three years on remand fighting the extradition, which was then permitted by then-Justice Minister Chris Ellison in February. Pleading guilty in April, he now faces a sentence of up to 10 years and a $500,000 fine.
Griffiths had never set foot in the US prior to his extradition — he’s a victim of the America’s unilateral extension of its sovereignty into every territory of the world, and the Australian Government’s supine willingness to acquiesce.
The case is similar to that of the “Natwest Three” last year — three UK bankers accused of fraud on UK soil entirely against UK customers. But the case was distantly connected to the Enron inferno — so across they went to the US, where they remain.
The point about such laws is that they’re inherently one-way. You can’t have overlapping multiple jurisdictions — the result would be international legal chaos. Australia’s acquiescing to the US claim that software piracy justifies such extraordinary measures (as if copyright violation is new) confirms it as nothing more than buttressing imperialism at the expense of its own citizens.
And, of course, intellectual property laws — whether on software, drugs or whatever — are bound up with empire, because they serve as nothing less than a rent the First World charges on developing countries. Really, America is pursuing such cases with draconian ferocity to give the appearance of consistency with regards to China, India etc.
At the time of the Natwest Three, many wondered why the fate of three spiv bankers should attract such attention. Maybe Griffiths’s case will focus people’s minds. Ultimately, anyone pirating a movie is liable to such laws. And the special relationship is once again shown to amount to not much more than a courtesy warning to “brace yourself”.