By Georgina Prodhan
LONDON (Reuters) - A London court ruled on Friday a British student can be extradited to the United States for breaching U.S. copyright law by running a website that allowed users to access films and TV programs illegally.
Richard O'Dwyer's website, TV Shack, provided links to other websites where users could access content but did not host any of the content itself.
The 23-year-old, who says he started the project to improve his computer programming skills and help him get a work placement, did not charge users but sold $230,000 worth of advertising on the site, according to U.S. authorities.
"I was forced to set up advertising because of the massive server fees," O'Dwyer told BBC radio ahead of the ruling.
"When you've got a website with over 300,000 people a month visiting, there's a need for infrastructure to support that. There's no other way to do it, unless you had the money yourself."
The United States has cracked down far harder than Britain on illegal file-sharing, which has damaged the film, television and music industries.
O'Dwyer's lawyer Ben Cooper argued that by linking to other websites, his client had done nothing more than the likes of Google Inc or Yahoo Inc.
He said the student's activities would not be criminal in Britain, and he should be tried at home if anywhere.
"There have been lots of very similar cases here which simply haven't stood up," Cooper, an extradition lawyer with Doughty Street Chambers, told Reuters by telephone.
"My argument is that it wouldn't be a criminal case here. At most, it would be a civil matter," he said.
He described O'Dwyer as a "guinea pig" as no British citizen had been extradited to the United States for a copyright offence before.
However, District Judge Quentin Purdy at London's City of Westminster magistrates' court upheld the extradition request, and said Britain's Home Secretary (interior minister) would make a final decision.
Cooper said his client would appeal against the verdict.
O'Dwyer's tearful mother Julia criticized the extradition treaty between Britain and the United States.
"If they can come for Richard, they can come for anybody ... there are no safeguards for British citizens," she told reporters after the hearing.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan and Paul Sandle; Editing by Andrew Heavens)