Shipped off to a foreign jail for warez
May 8, 2007 11:56 PM   Subscribe

The USA playing global sheriff isn't new, but the reach of US laws is extending. Hew Griffiths isn't a terrorist or a violent criminal, he didn't even make any money from his crime. He pirated some software, from his home in Australia. So why is he in jail in Virginia? Some think we might as well join 'em.
posted by bystander (55 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Jerks.
posted by joelf at 12:12 AM on May 9, 2007


Equating running DoD with "pirating some software from home" is kind of amusing, in the same way that equating running a Colombian drug cartel to smoking some weed at home is.

That being said, this really blows, and should never have happened. Shame on both governments.
posted by tumult at 12:13 AM on May 9, 2007


Yes, he apparently was a hardcore warez dude, but he wasn't selling stuff for massive profit like a drug lord.
posted by bystander at 12:23 AM on May 9, 2007


The mixed metaphors in that last link are something to behold.
posted by stavrogin at 12:24 AM on May 9, 2007


This is surely a great use of our tax dollars, not to mention our esteem in the global community.
posted by brundlefly at 12:25 AM on May 9, 2007


Yet more fallout in the quest to make some bits not copiable.
posted by Malor at 12:32 AM on May 9, 2007


This really isn't a US problem. We can technically charge a citizen of another country with whatever the hell we want...it's up to the other country's government to say whether they want to honor an extradition treaty and give in to the US charges.

You think if we charge Hugo Chavez or some other high ranking Venezuelan with sedition agianst the US that Venezuela is going honor the charges and allow us to export the defendant to stand trial in the US? Hell no.

It' Australia that bears the most blame for any injustice. It's their choice to enforce US copyright laws, and their choice to surrender their own citizen to stand trial in the face of a forgien corporate interest (RIAA).

Yea we might not like the law in this country, but we have to abide by it anyway or work against the (R)MAFIFIA to have the law changed. Australia however has a choice whether to honor US laws, this is 100% their desicion.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:32 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


From the wikipedia page of his warez group, DrinkOrDie:

The global raids were initiated after information was given to United States Customs by James Cudney, known as Bcrea8tiv; Blah-. Cudney spent years working undercover for US Customs, logging conversations in chat rooms and channels visited on IRC. Through an arrangement with US Customs, Cudney was paid $104 an hour.

104$ an hour for logging IRC. I am downloading mIRC and someone is going down.
posted by stavrogin at 12:32 AM on May 9, 2007


I agree the AU govt has been the pussy in this, but when the US throws its weight around, it can be hard for other countries to say no.
posted by bystander at 12:37 AM on May 9, 2007


...when the US throws its weight around...

I can't stop us and I'm so tired of that.
posted by taosbat at 12:47 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Griffiths, a Briton, has lived in Australia since the age of seven. From his home base on the central coast of NSW, he served as the leader of a group named Drink Or Die, which "cracked" copy-protected software and media products and distributed them free of cost. Often seen with long hair and bare feet, Griffiths did not make money from his activities, and lived with his father in a modest house.

But Drink or Die's activities did cost American companies money — an estimated $US50 million ($A60 million), if legal sales were substituted for illegal downloads undertaken through Drink or Die.
That's a lot more than just "pirating some software". (Nor does it matter that "he didn't make any money". If I burn your house down, I'm guilty of arson even if no one paid me to do it.)
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:53 AM on May 9, 2007


Australia sends a petty-criminal Pom to some shitty penal colony on the other side of the planet?

I quite like the poetic justice of it all.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:08 AM on May 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


If I burn your house down, I'm guilty of arson even if no one paid me to do it.

That's a truly idiotic comparison.
posted by bshort at 1:17 AM on May 9, 2007


Deprive a small software house of $10 million or $20 million revenue and it can be the difference between survival and bankrupcy. You may as well burn down the building.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 1:26 AM on May 9, 2007


How many potential customers of small software houses are using warez? How many would have paid for the software instead?
It doesn't seem reasonable to equate a direct property loss like a house fire with someone putting a copy of your code on a FTP site.
And multi year jail terms seem over the top.
posted by bystander at 1:34 AM on May 9, 2007


Yet more fallout in the quest to make some bits not copiable.

So anything digital is OK to copy? What about a list of credit card numbers? What if I crack VISA's database, Malor, and put up a website with your credit card number for anyone to download? I just want to demonstrate my technical prowness and I wouldn't make any money from it. Would that be OK? It's just some bits representing numbers and I can't control what people do with the information. If they buy a bunch of stuff on-line with the information I provided and ruin you financially why should I in any way be held responsible?
posted by three blind mice at 1:34 AM on May 9, 2007


There is nothing wrong with this guy being convicted.

It is, however, outrageous that he is being extradited.

Crime is local.

The Howard government rapidly defused the David Hicks issue when it became apparent that it was an electoral liability. Perhaps this will replace Hicks. They should be wary.

Australia's unquestioning support of the US doesn't make us a valued ally, merely a pathetic little friend.
posted by sien at 1:35 AM on May 9, 2007


If it's 50 million in total I really doubt that the 10 or 20 million$ are from any sort of "small software house". I also have to point out that the "if" in: "an estimated $US50 million ($A60 million), if legal sales were substituted for illegal downloads" is a mighty big if. Wouldn't one have to prove that all, most, many or any one of those who downloaded the pirated software would indeed have bought the software if it wasn't free.

The whole thing is of course despicable, Australia having for all practical purposes surrendered a chunk of its sovereignty to the US free of charge.
posted by talos at 1:39 AM on May 9, 2007


The whole thing is of course despicable, Australia having for all practical purposes surrendered a chunk of its sovereignty to the US free of charge.

And how about you talos? What if I put up your credit card number on my website from my flat on Sealand? Should the government of Sealand refuse to extradite me?
posted by three blind mice at 1:44 AM on May 9, 2007


I was working on a much longer comment, but people keep beating me to my points and doing it much more efficiently.

I'll agree with sien and talos.

Beyond that just think it's goofy that software companies haven't come up with a better business model. Piracy is a threat to businesses, for sure, but it's basically unstoppable. No matter how many Griffiths you haul off the jail, piracy will continue because it's not centralized. Either you ask the government to intervene and protect your product, which is pointless and doesn't seem very free market to me, or you buck the fuck up and come up with a way to deal with reality.

I'm not in that industry, so I don't know what the solution would be, but legal action seems pretty pointless in the long term. Same thing with the MPAA, etc.
posted by brundlefly at 1:45 AM on May 9, 2007


Deprive a small software house of $10 million or $20 million revenue and it can be the difference between survival and bankrupcy.

Which is why Australia has its own fucking rule of law regarding copyright infringement (not surprisingly, it looks a lot like our own). So why can't they try a case when their own fucking citizenry violates their own fucking laws?

I'd really, really like to hear the rational for this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:04 AM on May 9, 2007


tbm: the government of Sealand should try you itself. Otherwise it's not a government it's a protectorate.

Note however the irony of this given the non-extradition discussed in another recent thread.
posted by talos at 2:09 AM on May 9, 2007


the government of Sealand should try you itself.

But what if no law was broken in Sealand? I'm just posting information there and posting information cannot be a crime.

It's people in the U.S. who download the information and place orders using your credit card number in the U.S. If any crime is committed it is in the U.S. Why should the soverign government of Sealand do anything to stop me or assist U.S. authorities in any way? It's not like Sealand and the U.S. have any formal diplomatic agreements or anything.
posted by three blind mice at 2:19 AM on May 9, 2007


tbm: you realize that the Sealand issue as you describe it diverges rapidly from any similarity to the issue at hand... Having said that I can only point out that if Sealand and the US have no formal diplomatic agreements the issue is moot, since no agreements, means no extradition. If what is being committed in Sealand under Sealand law is not a crime, than no extradition or indeed charges can be brought. Period. If it is, there is no reason for extradition since Sealnd's courts are in a position to try the perpetrator themselves.

Let me reverse the situation:

scenario1: hacker X, who has never left the US in his life, is charged by the Iranian government of compromising national security by publicizing sensitive military information. Since there are a lot of groups in Iran who can be accurately described as terrorist or criminal, Iran claims that by doing so X has endangered Iranian citizens' lives. Assume that this isn't just spin, but that there is a logical basis for the Iranian government's claim. Would you as an American citizen support hacker X's extradition
scenario 2: User Y, who has never left the US in her life, publishes on the web, on a server located in Greece, defamatory accusations of criminal conduct against a Greek government official, statements that might or might not be true, but that she certainly can't prove in a court of law. Given Greece's draconian libel laws, the Greek government asks for Y's extradition. Would you as a US citizen support Y's extradition?
posted by talos at 2:35 AM on May 9, 2007


Well talos I am trying to simplify the matter in order to see where the real dispute is. Clearly the U.S. and Australia have such diplomatic agreements.

But let's look at your complicated construction.

Scenario 1: if there is a mutal agreement between the U.S. and Iran and both sides live faithfully up to the agreement - Iran being willing to extradite their citizens to the U.S. then yes the U.S. should live up to its part of the agreement.

Scenario 2: again, if there is a mutal agreement in place between the U.S. and Greece then yes. Of course, it is unlikely that the U.S. government would pass a law restricting the political speech of its own citizens and thus would unlikely enter into such an agreement with Greece in the first place.

The key is the existence of mutual agreements. And one assumes that the basis of any such an agreement is that laws already exist in both countries. It would be unreasonable for the U.S. to assist Greece in enforcing laws that would be unacceptable or unconstitutional in the U.S.

In this case, copyright infringement is proscribed in both the U.S. and Australia. If the infringement - the actual crime - was to take place in Australia, I would expect the U.S. to extradite its citizens to Australia upon the formal request of Australian authorities.
posted by three blind mice at 2:50 AM on May 9, 2007


But the crime here didn't occur in the USA.
posted by bystander at 2:59 AM on May 9, 2007


The crime:But in Australia, what the US wants, the US gets. The 51st state, indeed.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:05 AM on May 9, 2007


The crime:

is recognized as a crime in the United States (they have their own laws and everything!),

was committed by an Australian citizen,

on Australian AND U.S. soil. (One need not be physically present in the U.S. in order to break U.S. laws.)

2003, the US Department of Justice charged Griffiths with violating the copyright laws of the US, and requested his extradition from Australia. Senator Ellison signed a notice for Griffiths' arrest and Australian Federal Police arrested him at his home.

He may well ALSO be prosecuted in Australia, Civil_Disobedient, but this doesn't wipe the violation of U.S. law.

Lesson: If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.
posted by three blind mice at 3:35 AM on May 9, 2007


One need not be physically present in the U.S. in order to break U.S. laws

I think this is one of the issues. For the US to frame laws that apply to foreigners in their own countries is basically arrogant. The crime was not committed on US soil. The only tenuous link to the US is that some of the software owners were multinational companies that were founded in the US.
Would you be comfortable being tried in my country for, say, defamation, where our bar of proof is much lower, you have little experience of the legal system and you would have trouble getting a jury of your peers?
This appears to be a case of the US using its influence to get the case as its laws are more strictly upheld, and it will be politically popular with the software companies based there.
posted by bystander at 3:51 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


threeblindmice, the way it usually works when you commit a crime and you're a citizen of the country you commit the crime in, is that you are prosecuted and, if found guilty, jailed by said country. Not by country X, where some of your crimes may or may not have had an impact.

I thought this was obvious, in a sort-of National Sovereignty 101 kind of way, but clearly it's not.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:58 AM on May 9, 2007


So anything digital is OK to copy? What about a list of credit card numbers?

The credit card analogy doesn't work. If you get my cc# and post it online, real harm can come to me (my bank actually) when others charge to the card fraudulently. Now, if you stole software from me and post it online there is only speculative harm when others download and use it. One can only guess that those others who freely downloaded and used it may have done so legitimately, and it's a bad guess. I suffer no real loss.

I'm not a fan of real punishment for speculative harm.
posted by effwerd at 4:04 AM on May 9, 2007


The only tenuous link to the US is that some of the software owners were multinational companies that were founded in the US.

Did anyone in the U.S. use the information from the Australian website to illegally download software in the U.S.? If everything confined to Australia then I might be less strident about this, but in an interconnected world it is hard to talk about borders.

If you get my cc# and post it online, real harm can come to me (my bank actually) when others charge to the card fraudulently.

Yes, but actual harm is what is happened here. People used the codes to download software illegally. I understand that there are many people who believe that copyright infringement causes no harm, but the law does not agree with this point of view.

I am no fan of real punishment for speculative harm and I am even less of a fan to see any individual punished as an example to others, but as long as people think it is OK to infringe copyrights - and as brundlefly noted this is a crime which is very hard to police - this is what will happen.

What we need is to develop an ethos of on-line behaviour that respects the law and the value of copyright. Miscreants like Hew Griffiths should be vilified by on-line communities instead of fêted like some sort of hero.
posted by three blind mice at 4:16 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


"One need not be physically present in the U.S. in order to break U.S. laws"

Aye, there's the rub. This opens up a huge can of worms. What makes you believe that he was in any way present in the US when he allegedly committed these crimes? Indeed when these crimes were committed there was no treaty between Australia and the US (leaving aside the legality or the one-sidedness of the treaty). So he is tried under provisions that were not known to him when he committed the crime. What's next French advertisers extradited to the US for breaking US pornography laws?

The question of course is whether such a treaty, that exposes Australian citizens to an incredibly disproportionate US penal code is in any way acceptable (in comparison to Australia - as the smh article linked to in the post says: "On top of a possible 10-year jail term, Griffiths could be fined $US500,000. (By way of comparison, the average sentence for rape in Victoria is six years and 10 months.)"). I suspect that, were a similar issue to have appeared before any US court, it is highly unlikely that any US judge would extradite a US citizen to Australia for non-violent crimes committed while the accused was in the US.

In fact I remind you that Griffiths is still "accused" not condemned. Thus whether he has committed a crime or not is still up to a jury to decide - and that jury should be a jury of his peers, in the society he grew up in, not some foreign land with an astoundingly draconian penal system (and a human rights record in its prisons that is extremely brutal by most western nations' standards)

Given the non-violent and extra-territorial nature of the crime, that the Australian government proceeded with the extradition is mind-blowing. It is the Australian government that should be held accountable by its citizens for this.
posted by talos at 4:29 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


So the US approves killing but not stealing.
Nice set of values. Great message here.
posted by adamvasco at 5:09 AM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Regardless of the merits of the case, the punishment is cruel and unusual. It's bad enough going to gaol, but to be separated from family and support seems to be just going over the top.

This Australian government has form in not supporting it's citizens, and dare I say it permanent residents.

I wonder if this case was part of the David Hicks deal.

Another case of a Serbian national, who has spent his entire life in Australia (the family emigrated when he was two) being deported to Serbia after serving a gaol sentence in Australia. The man had no money, nowhere to live, couldn't speak Serbian- had already served his sentence. Why the double whammy in punishment? It seems unnecessarily cruel.
posted by mattoxic at 5:13 AM on May 9, 2007


on Australian AND U.S. soil. (One need not be physically present in the U.S. in order to break U.S. laws.)

This word, soil, I do not think it means what you think it means. It is not leet cybersoil. It is regular soil.
posted by thirteenkiller at 6:28 AM on May 9, 2007


talos makes an excellent point about the dollar figure. The $50 million figure is meant to provoke outrage and eliminate sympathy for the guy, because OMG $50 million! But these are not real losses.

This reminds me of the way drug busts are announced. They report the value of the drugs based on usual street transaction quantities (dime bags or whatever), so a kilo of cocaine, for instance, which you could get for about $15,000 in Miami in the late '80s, would be reported as worth $75k or more. It's propaganda.
posted by Mister_A at 7:31 AM on May 9, 2007


What we need is to develop an ethos of on-line behaviour that respects the law and the value of copyright.

no, what we need to develop is an ethos of law and copyright that respects the reality and the inevitability of on-line behavior ... one that realizes that if one makes too many people into criminals that respect for the law and government will disappear and that law and government are made to serve the people and their culture, not the other way around
posted by pyramid termite at 7:48 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


three blind mice writes "Did anyone in the U.S. use the information from the Australian website to illegally download software in the U.S.? If everything confined to Australia then I might be less strident about this, but in an interconnected world it is hard to talk about borders."

What if a Chinese citizen used a proxy server in the US to access sites his government forbade? Is the US proxy site liable under Chinese law?
posted by krinklyfig at 8:36 AM on May 9, 2007


I am in ur intrawebs, stealin' ur software.

Well, I guess since so many people are downloading movies, songs, and applications illegally and comforting themselves by saying "Hey, I didn't TAKE money away from anyone, and I wasn't gonna get any of this stuff if I had to pay for it, so no loss", then the laws should just adjust to face this reality. Copying and distribution of proprietary data should cease to be any kind of crime. Too bad about the creators of that data, but they knew the risks when they decided to, you know, make stuff. What were they thinking?

I don't agree with the extradition, if only on the grounds that it makes the U.S. and Australia both look bad since the enforcement should have remained local, but this guy should go to jail (or gaol). He made a deliberate decision that he was going to break the law and provide other people's software to all takers for free. It doesn't matter if he didn't make money from it, or if he didn't actually draw down the real funds of the affected companies instead of affecting anticipated revenues. He still broke the law, and he still impacted the income of these companies. You can't break into someone's house and then protest your innocence because all you did was lounge around and not take anything.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 8:42 AM on May 9, 2007


Midnight Creeper writes "Well, I guess since so many people are downloading movies, songs, and applications illegally and comforting themselves by saying 'Hey, I didn't TAKE money away from anyone, and I wasn't gonna get any of this stuff if I had to pay for it, so no loss', then the laws should just adjust to face this reality. Copying and distribution of proprietary data should cease to be any kind of crime."

Until recently, it was considered a civil infringement, not a crime against the state. That change has not altered behavior too much. Increasing penalties is going to tie up the courts, but to what end? When does prosecuting property crime take precedence over common sense solutions? What is a realistic solution to the problem, not just a "tough on crime" solution (we already have the largest prison population in the world in the US, per capita and in numbers)?
posted by krinklyfig at 9:04 AM on May 9, 2007


Steven C. Den Beste: "Deprive a small software house of $10 million or $20 million revenue and it can be the difference between survival and bankrupcy. You may as well burn down the building."

And this is just stupid, so now every teen that has Phtoshop in his box would rather buy it if he can't "pirate" it?
That's just bullshit, it's just the same claim as the RIAA, whining about the loss of CDs sells, as if all those that download music will suddenly buy all those CDs they get as FLACs or MP3s when suddenly it will be impossible to download.

Those copyright laws begins to be a real danger for the societies they are used in.
posted by zouhair at 11:28 AM on May 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Deprive a small software house of $10 million or $20 million revenue and it can be the difference between survival and bankrupcy. You may as well burn down the building.

The people who downloaded software from a w4r3z site, who, had they not chosen to obtain pirated copies, would have bought it, individually deprived the software house of the revenue it would have gotten from their individual purchase. This guy can put the wares on line but he can't make people download it, nor force them not to buy legitimate licences.

Yes, what he did was illegal and should be actionable (under the laws of his own country, preferably), but he didn't personally deprive anyone of revenue. He didn't make those downloaders download it, and he didn't make them choose not to buy a legitimate copy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:09 PM on May 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


As long as we're having so much fun with the analogies, can I ask--if I, an American, mug an Australian in America, should I be extradited to Australia for trial, or tried in the US?
posted by agentofselection at 12:44 PM on May 9, 2007


Perhaps some of this confusion arises because not only did the Australian not come to America, the American (and multinational) victims didn't go to Australia, either. So maybe a better question would be, if I slander an Australian (while he is in Australia) from the US, and if it had occured wholly in one country or another, either would consider it a crime, where should I be prosecuted?
posted by agentofselection at 12:47 PM on May 9, 2007


God, what a silly argument.

If you steal something from me, I don't care where you are, you have broken the law and you should be punished according to the law of the country in which I was at the time of the theft. And that's what happened here. Here endeth the lesson.
posted by tadellin at 2:13 PM on May 9, 2007


I don't get why people are so up in arms about this. Though the Internet is a new-ish thing, multinational commerce isn't, and there's a fairly large and boring corpus of law surrounding it. DoD was arguably engaging in such commerce -- trafficking in goods across international borders -- and we shouldn't be surprised that conducting a form of international commerce which is illegal in one or more of the countries involved can get your ass extradited to one of them to stand trial.

So save the "OMG AUSTRALIA IS A NEW STATE IN THE AMERIKKKAN EMPIRE!!!!111!!" stuff for a time when it's actually worth getting worked up over.
posted by ubernostrum at 2:20 PM on May 9, 2007


If you steal something from me,

So the software companies woke up one morning and found that their software was no longer on their production and distribution machines? Damn, that guy's good.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:21 PM on May 9, 2007


I don't mind this cross-border arrest business, but it would be nice to see some deserving C-level executives from multinational corporations get hammered by this as well.
posted by illiad at 2:43 PM on May 9, 2007


God, what a silly argument.

I don't see why "prosecute in the victim's country of residence" is a self-evident rule for determining where prosecution should occur. Why not make it prosecute in the thief's country? It seems like where the criminal was is as likely to be where the crime happened as where the victim was. If the victim's location is the rule, would it be appropriate for intellectual property holders to incorporate in whatever country gives the most draconian punishments for copyright violation?
And you state so clearly that the "thief" should be prosecuted in whatever country you reside in--does this only apply if an extradition treaty exists? Or should that always be what happens, even if the "thief's" country has no law against what he did?
posted by agentofselection at 2:45 PM on May 9, 2007


If you steal something from me, I don't care where you are, you have broken the law and you should be punished according to the law of the country in which I was at the time of the theft. And that's what happened here. Here endeth the lesson.

First off, copyright infringement is not the same thing as stealing, and it's not the same thing as theft. Next, countries are generally sovereign and the laws of other countries don't intrude within their borders. The US shouldn't be passing laws that claim they're applicable in foreign countries, and Australia certainly shouldn't be extraditing people like this.
posted by bshort at 4:43 PM on May 9, 2007


Maybe Australia just doesn't want to pay for his prison upkeep. Either that, or Australia is sucking up to us by... giving us more criminals. I think I get it now. They're going to create the perfect society by sending all of their criminals to the U.S. It's not like we'd notice, would we.
posted by stavrogin at 8:33 PM on May 9, 2007


Metafilter: God, what a silly argument.
posted by Colloquial Collision at 9:03 PM on May 9, 2007


I guess some of you wouldn't mind an American citizen getting shipped off to some Middle East shithole to be executed if he dared to say anything bad about Muhammad. After all, you don't need to be physically in Saudi Arabia to commit blasphemy against Allah and his prophet.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:50 AM on May 10, 2007


Optimus: wake us when America signs treaties with those countries to extradite our citizens for blaspheming Allah. I'm sure we'll be seeing that any day now. Otherwise, your point is pretty irrelevant.

Both Australia and America agreed to this, it's not a one-way thing.

Even way back in the 80's warez scene, people knew this was criminal, shady behavior. Look at the screennames, the attitudes, the boards... these were not people engaged in some noble pursuit, they were criminals who thought it was a joke (and to be fair, it was largely treated as a joke by the law back then). Now that the law has changed, some people are a little slow to wake up to that fact.
posted by wildcrdj at 12:22 AM on May 11, 2007


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