Software pirate extradition a first of many, legal expert predicts

Australian resident Hew Griffiths faces up to 10 years in a U.S. prison

It took three years of legal debate before Hew Raymond Griffiths, an Australian resident and British citizen, was surrendered to the U.S. for his involvement in the international software piracy group Drink or Die (DoD).

Griffiths was extradited on February 20 this year, and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, and one count of criminal copyright infringement, before the Virginian District Court on April 20. Potentially facing a maximum sentence of 10 years in an American prison and a $US500,000 fine, he now awaits sentencing on June 22.

To unravel the implications of Griffiths' extradition for Australian content users and owners, Liz Tay enlisted the legal expertise of Nick Abrahams, a corporate and commercial lawyer of international law firm, Deacons, and president of the Communications and Media Law Association in Australia.

What do you think is most significant about the Hew Griffiths case?

To my knowledge this is the first case of IP [intellectual property] theft resulting in an extradition.

It really shows that you can't hide from IP prosecution, and I think it's been a wake-up call to internet users, because often there's a belief that if you place your servers in a particular jurisdiction that has very little regulation and IP protection and so forth, then somehow that will shield you from liability and you can then go on to live somewhere else.

I think what the Hew Griffiths case shows is that you do need to be very aware that particularly in the U.S., where the number one export is intellectual property, they are incredibly vigilant, and this has been a very significant coup for them and I see this as the start of more international prosecution for cyber-related crime.

How was the extradition made possible?

We had the free trade agreement with the U.S. a few years ago, which was great for Australia in a number of respects, and it also had with it a significant obligation on Australia to change its copyright laws to give more protection to copyright owners.

What that means is now there's a lot more criminality, or criminal statute, covering intellectual property from copyright theft, which we didn't have before. That's important because we're now a bit more harmonised with the U.S.

Does the Free Trade Agreement mean that we will be seeing more Australians being extradited to the U.S. on IP charges?

We now have a lot more criminal penalty for IP theft as a result of the Free Trade Agreement, so the potential for this to be used more broadly is certainly there.

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Liz Tay

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