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British man faces extradition to U.S. for Piracy search engine

PCScreen.jpgA British court has buckled to the pressure of the American anti-piracy lobby as he ran a site which allowed users to search for external links to illegally copied content and for registered users to comment on and promote them, a definition which meets those of search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

Despite this the twenty-three year old student, who earned money from his site traffic but never had any physical copies of illegally obtained content on his site or passing through it, has been sought by the U.S. authorities to be extradited and tried on American soil and through American law, and the British court system agrees.

Richard O'Dwyer ran a Netherlands server based site called TVShack which linked to other sites which hosted pirated versions of television shows and films, a site which proved so popular that it apparently earned him some fifteen thousand pounds a month in advertising revenue, according to the article in The Guardian.

His lawyers used the clear defence that he was running a search engine and did not host the content himself, and that he was little different to sites like Google, Yahoo, etc. who provide listings to sites which carry pirated content and where you can also register, comment and promote links on their sites.

The judge didn't buy that though, especially as that would prove he had done nothing illegal under British law and would not be extradited. So they ruled against him and an appeal waits.

Clearly there is little difference between what O'Dwyer has done and the larger search engines, the difference is that O'Dwyer does not have the money or the publicity machine to either harm or mount a valid defence against the agencies and industry who want to take him to America and make an example of him. Sites such as Google and Yahoo clearly do.

While I don't agree with piracy, especially distribution of pirated materials, I am a very clear believer that the way to beat it is not to make an enemy of your audience and customers, or your potential audience. Of course go after those who are, on a large scale, physically pirating and distributing the illegally copied content, but don't go after individuals who are just like the individual you are trying to sell to.

Being nice and beguiling with your marketing and asking the very people you are threatening with extradition and prison to spend ever increasing costs on continually quality reducing content which is getting harder to see when the demand is there is not the way to run a business.

The answer is to break down territorial release systems, to research, develop and enable new digital delivery streams that work and are customer focused as well as ensuring non-pirated content. Forget the model of trying to earn more and more money from a single cinema ticket and think more about how hardware and software manufacturers and the internet are pushing new deployment medium and accept the very model that you are trying to sell.

As a consumer I have access to streamed content through my PC, my PlayStation 3, and my Internet enabled television. I am actively being offered content through these channels, but at the same time I'm being told that I have to wait while it is released in the cinema, then on Blu-ray and DVD, then some content will be offered for streaming on different channels, and only after the studios have made enough on their higher revenue channels before reaching the very channel I am being actively sold by them, via the internet.

The very fact that the rising cost of ticket prices to see films which you could argue are becoming more and more production lined - it must hit this budget; it must be cheaper; it must be a guaranteed revenue earner before it's even scripted; this must be in 3D; it must contain these stars; it will be a prequel, a sequel a remake... - is a key reason why piracy occurs. The consumers recognise that, but the industry does not.

The answer is not to go after the small individual in the middle of things, especially one who is as guilty as any of the search engines out there but just doesn't have the money or the political and marketing clout to defend him, but to go after the big hosting, and not to make a complete marketing disaster of it all with the very audience you are trying to entice to buy your product and stop pirating.

The answer is to reduce release windows, not increase them, and cut the rug from under the pirate's feet so that the key reasons for them succeeding are removed. If people have access to content from a legitimate source they will pay for it rather than steal it. Make content available across the globe faster, allow customers to get the content they want through the channels they want to watch it on, and if it's downloaded, make sure it doesn't take four times as long to download as a peer-to-peer connection.

For O'Dwyer's case the situation is worrying. He is a test case, and if he is extradited you can expect more of these heavy handed tactics from America against British individuals. This might also the search engines sit up and notice, but I suspect none of this will make more people go to the cinema, buy DVD's and Blu-rays or download or stream content from legitimate sources.

Surely I'm not the only one who realises that the current tactics are incredibly wrong and fostering the exact opposite feelings with the individual that the film and television industry need? Surely I can't be the only one who sees that letting people have the content they want, in the way they want, as fast as they want it will result in more sales and less illegal copies? Am I? Am I really so wrong?



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