Extradition Oddities: The Fall And Rise Of One Richard O’Dwyer

Richard O’Dwyer, the current poster-boy for internet freedom

Once, a few years ago, on the way into Sheffield town centre by car, my friends and I pulled over to ask a man directions. The man was what I have since described as a Sheffield-fisherman-type. Undermining my description, however, as has been pointed-out over the years since, is the fact that the man had no fishing rods, box of maggots and mank, and he wasn’t wearing wellies. Additionally, he didn’t smell of fish and we were likely miles from the nearest lake. However, he did have a big bushy beard and the mentality of a hardcore fisherman, or so I imagined – he was very patient with us thickos who had no idea where the hell we were going – and so the name stuck.

We didn’t know it, then, but we had struck asking-directions-gold, which is, as it happens, the precise opposite of what might happen if you stopped to ask me for directions. Not only did the Sheffield-fisherman-type have the most magnificent of beards which gave everyone something to ogle at as we listened to our directions, but he appeared to possess an almost disturbingly vast knowledge of the local landscape – both urban and rural. In just five short minutes, we had directions to every place we needed, and in the sixth minute it became a kind of one-sided game, where, without even saying to one another what we were doing, each of us fired out the name of a place and he gave us precise directions to it. Amazingly, he even stood there with his great big bushy beard, in no hint of a rush, and waited for us to record the directions down. Then again, this may have been just to make sure that all his knowledge didn’t go to waste. If I was any good at giving directions I’d make sure every bloody person in attendance wrote them down perfectly, just so that I could walk off home knowing that my knowledge would live on, and that I hadn’t just completely wasted time which could have been spent doing anything else. Like fishing, or eating Wispas and watching Rambo: First Blood.

Towards the end of all this – one of my friends was writing the directions down extra slowly, just to test the fisherman’s patience, and he showed no sign of losing it, which thrilled us all – another car pulled-up behind us. Possessing one of those big aircraft-style spoiler things on the back and bright purple in colour, lots of thudding, intimidating, boy-racer-bassy noise was booming from the vehicle, and looking through the rear window I saw the car was filled with four men: each as muscular as a classic American jock, and each a skinhead, with a can of beer in his hand. Yes, including the driver. At least I was sure there was four, but clearly I was wrong. The next time I turned my head to the left, I saw one of the muscular jock men walking up beside the car, directly towards the Sheffield-fisherman-type. At this point I considered that possibly he had been in the boot of the car all along, hiding under the spoiler-thing.

“You giving directions?” he said, still with the can of booze in his hand. I sank back into the car, the bearded-wonder staring at me for a second with an unreadable kind of look: Help me! Or maybe Help me kill him?

At this point, something bizarre happened. Our directional superhero leaned closer to the car, pushing slightly past the jock to do this, and put his hand on the door. “Have a good one, gents,” he said, in his Sheffield way, and turned to leave. As we pulled away, thanking him, the jock guy, suddenly furious, threw his hand forward, still holding the can, and stalled it when his arm was out straight, ejecting the booze in the direction of the bearded man. We were accelerating by this point, and the last thing I saw was the Sheffield-fisherman-type spinning round on his heels, holding a knife up and moving forward quickly – the jock guy running backwards with his hands up, terrified, and definitely not getting directions, I would have thought.

The point of all this? Some people find people who give directions very threatening, even though they’re alright really. In this next case, infamous student Richard O’Dwyer — who was yesterday finally told he won’t face extradition to the US for his love of directing people to certain websites — is the Sheffield-fisherman-type, and the car full of muscular jocks is the US Government, who may well be presently eating lots of comfort food and drinking lots to try and numb the feeling of not having achieved what they set out to do. Richard O’Dwyer may be a beardless new-age technological wonder, but he did – and will continue to – go to Sheffield Hallam University, thus rendering this lengthy lead into my post entirely valid. Oh yes.

If you’re not familiar with all this, and you’re absolutely sick of hearing about my Sheffield-fisherman-type story, let’s go back to basics:

Richard O’Dwyer is one of those people that you either really love, or really hate. If you love the idea of internet freedom, for instance, then he’s your man. You might even buy him a drink, although I wouldn’t buy him two, because it looks like it might floor him. The creator of TVShack – a now deceased website which kindly linked you up to all the online sources where you could watch films and TV shows – what started as a fun little project for O’Dwyer soon started to turn into more or less sheer hell (not that you’d have guessed watching any of his TV interviews). So it comes down to this, really: someone putting in too much over-time at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency had found out about TVShack, you see, and they’d gone and told everyone else, who had all collectively decided that the only thing to do was to extradite the offender to the US. Yep, it’s one of those cases. Another problem that the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency had was that O’Dwyer allegedly – I’m saying it’s allegedly, although clearly they are pretty convinced of this – made as much as £147,000 from advertising revenue. Until they shut him down, that was.

So you could say that it wasn’t looking very good. Also, TVShack had rapidly gone from something I’d have boasted like hell about to everyone I met – especially seeing as I am terrible at HTML coding or anything like it — to something you’d want to avoid putting on your CV in a very big way indeed.

However, after all kinds of hassle for O’Dwyer – his mum panicking about losing her son to the US for a decade, for example, not to mention more or less all of us wondering why in the hell this had all become such an insanely big deal – things were soon to take an intriguing twist. Following the cancellation of hacker Gary McKinnon’s extradition order by Theresa May, on the grounds that he had Asperger’s and would surely kill himself if he was to be sent to the US, things started to look up and word had it that O’Dwyer’s case might go a similar route. Yesterday’s verdict is the conclusion of all that looking-up. The signatures of 247,000 people on a petition started by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also probably helped a bit to suggest that all this had grown into a far bigger issue than it really ever should have.

It’s not all over for Richard O’Dwyer, of course. His phone and internet usage is likely to be checked daily by the US Government for the rest of all-time, and, according to what I’ve been reading, before he can get on with the rest of his life, the Sheffield Hallam student will need to travel to the US within the next few days to pay a small fine — whatever that actually is — and basically have his wrists lightly slapped, which sounds seedy, but I didn’t mean it to, honest. Even once that’s all done, the future of Richard O’Dwyer is blurry and unclear. For example, there may be other charges for him to face in the UK — I say maybe, I have no idea — now that extradition has been more or less ruled-out.

Whatever the case, if you were thinking about setting up a cool new website to link people to anything, especially movies and TV or files of some description, then you should probably think twice or even three times. Especially if where you’re linking to is on foreign soil. Not that I see any of this deterring the hardcore web-warriors from going about their business. TVShack was just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of linking sites found all over the web. O’Dwyer, who started his site back in 2007, may be the poster-boy of naughty webmasters, but he’s by far not the only one, and it’s certain he won’t be the last.

Note: I know all information contained here to be accurate. Obviously I do, or else I wouldn’t have gone and written it. If any of it’s inacurrate, please leave a comment. Hell, if you want to, leave a comment anyway to say how accurate I am! Thanks.