US Copyright Laws Bringing New Meaning to ‘Long Arm of the Law’

Australian man had never been to the US nor ever even owned a passport, but thanks to US copyright laws he’s currently serving a 15-month sentence in a US jail.

Hew Griffiths was convicted by a Federal Court in Virginia back in June of this year for being a ring leader of DrinkOrDie or DOD, an underground software piracy network, but the case is interesting because he never actually set foot in the United States nor did ever actually profit from his copyright infringing activities.

Griffiths was living in Berkeley Vale in the Central Coast Region of NSW, Australia before he was detained and jailed by authorities seeking to extradite him to the United Sates as requested. After fighting extradition for almost 3 years, Griffiths was finally extradited from Australia to the US and on February 20, 2007, he appeared before Magistrate Judge Barry R. Portez of the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia. He would later plead guilty and ultimately be sentenced to 51-months in jail, all but 15-months of which were credited as time served based on his years in the custody of Australian authorities while fighting extradition.

What makes the affair so particularly alarming is that any Aussie who violates US copyright laws in excess of $1000 USD could also face the same fate as he.

Many think that this is easy to avoid, that by simply not engaging in illegal file-sharing or properly paying for all music and software obtained that a similar fate won’t befall them. Yet, what many don’t realize is that simple things like removing DRM protections from music, making a backup of a DVD or a CD, or copying software onto multiple household PCs without proper licensing can also just as easily rack up copyright infringement damages that could guarantee a spot in US custody.

All of this has some in Australia rightfully upset with the current state of copyright laws and many are clamoring for much needed reform.

It’s no longer a matter of trying to distribute content illegally en masse online, but rather simply that of trying to use purchased content as one sees fit. Things like TV time-shifting(think Slingbox, DVR, and recording) and data sharing(think guitar tabs, sewing patterns, and game guides), have made many wary of running afoul of US copyright laws and landing an unwanted seat on “con-air.”

With US laws increasingly infringing on the neutrality of the internet with things like a ban on gambling, user privacy vis a vis server log subpoenas, and the demand that foreign music sites like pay US-decided royalties not those of its own country, net neutrally has never been an important issue.

But, it seems so long as US laws work in favor of US companies and special interest groups that the problems and challenges they mean for the free flow of ideas, thoughts, and information around the world are disregarded.

Maybe if more web sites and consumers in other countries ought to actually do what TorrentSpy did today and simply cut us loose. Maybe only then would we see a groundswell of public support in this country for much need copyright reform and network neutrality legislation.