Who is Richard O'Dwyer, the man whose extradition case was the subject of the most popular question asked during the leadup to President Barack Obama's Google+ Hangout and addressed directly by the president during his social-media forum Monday night?
The question was posed via text by YouTube user jeepersmedia of Connecticut: Why are you personally supporting the extradition [sic] UK Citizen Richard O'Dwyer for solely linking to copyright infringing works using an Extradition Treaty designed to combat terrorism and to bring terrorists to Judgement in the USA?
The moderator of the forum read the question to Obama via live-feed, and the president was slightly flustered at first but managed to regain his composure and give a dodging answer: I'm not personally doing anything, he said. The president doesn't get involved in ... extradition decisions.
Very little was learned from either the question or Obama's response, which then veered into discussion of copyright law and the Stop Online Piracy Act, but the fact that it was posed directly to the leader of the free world thrusts O'Dwyer into the international spotlight.
So the question being asked around the world in the wake of Obama's online forum is the following: Who is this Richard O'Dwyer, and why is he so important?
O'Dwyer is the 23-year-old British student who helmed TvShack.net until he shut it down in November 2010, when he was arrested on charges that he violated U.S. copyright law. He contends that the site did not host copyrighted material but instead linked to sites with various TV show and movies.
But U.S. officials are not buying his explanation, and he is set to be extradited to the U.S. to face two counts of breaching copyright, each of which carries a five-year maximum sentence. The case has been a flashpoint ever since his arrest, as the acts he is being accused of are not even illegal in the United Kingdom.
The case is not under the direct purview of Obama himself, but it is instead being pursued by the U.S. Justice Department, which ties the president's hands in being allowed to speak out on the topic. But there are steps he could take, if he so chose, to bring clarity to what the U.S. policy is exactly on extraditions of this sort.
He could push Congress to pass legislation, speak out generally on the issue, or even introduce an executive order addressing these issues generally without naming O'Dwyer specifically. But the U.S. government is in the midst of figuring out how to address what it describes as rampant online piracy and copyright infringement, and this is just one in a slew of cases -- most prominently, the recent takedown of the popular MegaUpload and MegaVideo file-sharing sites -- that have brought controversy in this area of law.
So as for who Richard O'Dwyer is: He's the man at the center of an international scandal, and not one Obama chose to comment on via YouTube and Google+.