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Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales launches petition to support Richard O'Dwyer

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Richard O’Dwyer, the 24-year-old British man facing extradition to the U.S. for alleged copyright infringement, has received a valuable new ally: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales.

Wales started a petition on Change.org Sunday that gathered 20,000 signatures in its first 21 hours, a pace Change.org Communications Director John Coventry called “unprecedented” in that site’s history. It met its goal of 25,000 signatures Monday morning, and is still rapidly growing.

O’Dwyer owned and operated the website TV Shack, a site that didn’t actually host videos, but allowed users to search for streaming television shows on different domains, many of which were uploaded illegally by other users. U.S. officials under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested him for copyright infringement in 2010.

British Home Secretary Theresa May signed an extradition order for O’Dwyer in March. In May, his court date to appeal extradition was pushed back until at least October.

In his petition, Wales called O’Dwyer “the human face of the battle between the content industry and the interests of the general public.”

Wales has previously publicly attacked copyright enforcement that he thought went too far. Wikipedia was one of the most prominent sites to go black in January to protest the copyright-enforcing Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP Acts (SOPA and PIPA). Users who tried to access the site were met with a splash page that said “SOPA and PIPA threaten the very fiber of the internet.”

He likened saving O’Dwyer from extradition to that strike, saying “Earlier this year, in the fight against the anti-copyright bills SOPA and PIPA, the public won its first big victory. This could be our second.”

It’s not even clear that U.S. agents’ seizure of TV Shack was legal. O’Dwyer’s British charges were dropped because he was being targeted by ICE, which regularly shuts down copyright-infringing websites around the world.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, recently slammed ICE’s website-shuttering practices, saying the organization skips due process, violates website owners’ first amendment rights, and operates on a “fundamental misunderstanding of criminal copyright law.”

In a previous interview with the Daily Dot, O’Dwyer’s mother Julia stressed that while she’s convinced Richard didn’t actually violate copyright to begin with, the fact that he’s set to be extradited to the U.S. is particularly unjust.

He’d face much harsher penalties under U.S. courts, she said, describing the ordeal as “a nightmare.”

Julia, who started her own petition for her son in 2011 that stalled out after almost 24,000 signatures, has repeatedly expressed fears online that Richard would be forgotten by the public, and extradited without protest.

She told the Daily Dot via Twitter that she was grateful for Wales’s petition, which gathered more signatures in one day than she was able to in almost a year.

“Publicity about influential people's support is invaluable,” she wrote.

Photo via @jrodwyer