Griffiths is a former internet software pirate who cracked and downloaded software and distributed it for free. He has been charged under US Copyright law, and charged by a US grand jury (equivalent of a committal hearing – merely establishing that there is enough evidence to proceed). The US has demanded that Australia extradite Griffiths to face trial before the US District Court in Virginia.
Griffiths has agreed to plead guilty to offences under Australian copyright law (which he also breached). Minister Chris Ellison could have refused the US extradition request, but after months of delay, Ellison has issued a warrant for Griffiths’ extradition. Meanwhile, Griffiths was refused bail and has languishing in an Australian gaol for almost three years.
Seems a pretty harsh punishment. Many convicted criminals get less time in gaol than that.
As skepticlawyer says, the case raises two interesting questions:
- How sensible is IP law? Should IP rights be accorded the same protection as other property rights?
- What are the implications of the extraterritorial reach of the legal arm of US law? The US loves to enact extraterritorial laws (eg, US “antitrust” laws)
One of the ironies is that in the 18th century, the US was one of the biggest copyright violators out there. There was a massive black market in unauthorised copies of various English novels. However, the shoe is on the other foot now…
Being a nerd, I must delve briefly into some legal considerations… Article 3 of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”) says that states must accord foreign copyright holders the same degree of protection that they accord their own copyright holders (called “national treatment”). The only basis on which the US could validly argue that its IP laws should operate extraterritorially would be if Australian law did not comply with national treatment (ie, it did not protect US copyright holders to the same extent as Australian copyright holders). Australian law clearly complies with this provision, and in fact, is in conformity with international intellectual property norms. Therefore, I would argue that the purported extraterritorial operation of the US copyright law is clearly baseless in this instance. Further it is a breach of Australian sovereignty.
So it seems to me (without knowing the full details of the case) that the obvious response is to (a) refuse to extradite Griffiths and (b) charge him under the Australian Copyright Act.