From New Matlida (Subscription required). I didn’t know any of this – but I should have.
On 22 June 2007, Australian resident Hew Griffiths is due to be sentenced in a US Federal Court in Virginia. He is charged with conspiracy to infringe US copyright, an act committed from his Australian home. Having pleaded guilty to this crime, he is likely to be sentenced to 10 years in an American jail. But prior to his sentencing, Griffiths had never been to America. . . .
Griffiths, who was extradited to the US last month, has already served three years in an Australian jail fighting the extradition proceedings more time than he would have served had he simply been tried for this crime (as he should have been) under Australian law. . . .
. . . This man is not a dangerous criminal. At the very worst, he is a thief but even this is a stretch as he never actually stole anything himself. What he actually did was crack codes that enabled people to download for free (steal) copyright protected software on games.
Griffiths never made any money from his venture. For him and his cyber-gang Drink or Die it was a game. But, with copyright infringement high on Americas corporate radar, Drink or Die was targeted for exemplary punishment by the US Department of Justice. . . .
Drink or Die was an international group of internet thrill seekers or warez pirates who took delight in circumventing American software protection codes (but who never personally profited from their escapades). They knew what they were doing was illegal they were indirectly robbing American copyright holders of royalties earned through the legal purchase of software. . . . While he wasnt the only person arrested in the US-orchestrated sting on Drink or Die, he was the only person that the Americans sought to extradite to the US; all other members from Britain, France and elsewhere were simply charged, tried and sentenced in their own country, under national laws, and are now free.
Hew Griffiths is the only member languishing in a foreign prison with, no doubt, many more years to serve.
So why wasnt Griffiths simply charged and tried in his home country, under local laws? Australia has perfectly sound copyright laws under which active piracy of the kind perpetrated by Griffiths would allow companies that felt damaged by his actions to bring a case and seek civil damages. Indeed, Australia has the very same framework for punishing copyright violations as the US, thanks to the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA). Under that agreement, Australia agreed to completely harmonise our copyright law with the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which counts copyright infringement as a criminal act. . . .
The United States Government wanted to make an example out of Drink or Die members. It wanted to show that the long arm of the American law could seek out and punish copyright violators wherever they may be. Sure, Drink or Die members could be charged in their home countries (as the majority were). But imagine the message that would be sent to potential pirates if offenders were actually extradited to the US to face trial and much harsher sentences.
The tricky bit would be convincing governments to hand over their citizens for prosecution in a foreign country. This is a big ask for a number of reasons. It would reflect poorly on a governments confidence in its own legal institutions. Moreover, people arrested for committing a crime in their home country have a right to be imprisoned close to their family members, not in a foreign country. The US didnt even bother asking other countries for extradition proceedings, as it knew the response would be a resounding no. . . .
Griffiths was shipped to the US in April and was to stand trial on charges of copyright infringement and conspiracy in May. But Griffiths negotiated a plea bargain settlement and on 20 April it was announced that he had entered a plea of guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement. The charge of actual infringement was dropped so no actual economic damage is alleged by the US. Awaiting sentencing on June 22, he faces a jail term of up to 10 years, plus fines of up to $500,000. If convicted he will probably never be allowed back into Australia again, a place he has called home for 37 years. . . .