Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has started an online campaign to halt the extradition of a British student to the United States for alleged copyright offences.

Richard O'Dwyer, a 24-year-old multimedia student at Sheffield Hallam University, faces up to 10 years in a US prison for setting up, a website which provided links to other sites that show TV programmes and films online.

Wales has started a petition in a bid to block home secretary Theresa May's plans to extradite him.

On the petition website, Wales wrote: "O'Dwyer is not a US citizen, he's lived in the UK all his life, his site was not hosted there, and most of his users were not from the US.

"America is trying to prosecute a UK citizen for an alleged crime which took place on UK soil.

"The internet as a whole must not tolerate censorship in response to mere allegations of copyright infringement. As citizens we must stand up for our rights online.

"Richard O'Dwyer is the human face of the battle between the content industry and the interests of the general public."

The case was brought by the US immigration and customs enforcement agency, which claims earned more than $230,000 (£147,000) in advertising revenue before the site was seized in June 2010.

O'Dwyer was arrested and had his equipment confiscated by police, accompanied by US customs officials, in November 2010.

O'Dwyer's mother, Julia, has shown support for Wales's campaign after previously saying her son was being "sold down the river" by the British government.

She wrote on the petition page: "This is not only a matter of British national importance but of global importance too. We so appreciate Jimmy Wales launching this petition in support of Richard. To have such support and endorsement from such a knowledgeable and respected figure is fantastic."

May approved O'Dwyer's extradition to the US after a court ruling in January. An appeal was due to be heard in the high court in July but has been delayed until the end of the year.

A separate online petition set up by Ms O'Dwyer on has gained more than 23,000 signatures.

Earlier this year, Wikipedia took its English-language site offline in protest against US anti-piracy laws.

TVShack founder Richard O'Dwyer with his mother Julia
TVShack founder Richard O'Dwyer with his mother Julia (Reuters) Reuters