In February, an Australian resident, Hew Griffiths, was extradited to face a US criminal court on charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringements, and criminal copyright infringement. He pleaded guilty, and last Friday he was sentenced to more than four years in prison.  Because he has already spent three years in an Australian jail, he will have to serve 15 months in the US.

Griffiths was extradited and has been convicted for his involvement in ‘warez trading’: he was a leader of the DrinkOrDie software piracy group, who deliberately and consciously set up an international computer network which operated, in an organised way, to crack technical protections on software and distribute the uncracked version.

It’s important to get a few misconceptions out of the way. Griffiths is not copyright’s version of David Hicks. Hicks was held without charge for years in the US; Griffiths was held only after a US grand jury indicted him. Hicks was charged under laws which applied criminal penalties retrospectively to acts done before the law was passed. Griffiths was convicted for acts which were crimes under Australian law at the time he did them.

It is unlikely Hicks was thinking about possible conviction by a US court when he acted in Afghanistan; Griffiths flouted Australian and US copyright law, and boasted he would not be caught. If the US were going to choose a case for a copyright-based extradition, they certainly chose someone who is not a particularly sympathetic character.

But we should be shocked, and worried, by what has happened to Griffiths. Why? Because before he was extradited, Griffiths had never set foot in the United States. It is a worry that we have, without any apparent demur on the part of Australian authorities, the exercise of US jurisdiction. It means that Australian authorities will, it seems, happily allow US law to be applied to acts done in Australia. Why?

There is no reason why Griffiths could not have been charged, and tried, in an Australian court. There were many other co-conspirators, but none have been extradited to the US. Several were charged, and convicted, under UK law by UK courts. Why is Griffiths being treated differently? Because Griffiths was the leader? All the more reason to try him here.

The Australian Government might respond that in the case of ‘transnational’ crimes, drastic action like extradition is necessary. But this is copyright, not international terrorism or child p-rn-graphy we are talking about. It is an economic crime. Extradition does not seem appropriate or proportionate.

We should be worried that such extraditions might become more common. If they do, Australians will have to consider, in their online activities, extradition to the US as a possible risk. So much for Australian sovereignty.

Weatherall blogs at LawFont.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey