Judge says illegal filesharing is damaging music industry, but Irish law does not allow ISPs to cut off offenders’ internet
* Josh Halliday
* guardian.co.uk, Monday 11 October 2010 14.57 BST
Four of the world’s largest record companies have failed in an attempt to get the ‘three strikes’ rule enforced against illegal filesharers in Ireland.
Warner Music, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG and EMI brought the case against UPC, one of Ireland’s largest broadband providers, in order to establish a legal precedent that would force internet service providers to cut off illegal filesharers’ internet connections.
Today the Irish high court ruled that laws to identify and cut off internet users were not enforceable in Ireland, meaning the country is not in line with European copyright law. The record companies were looking to force internet service providers to adopt the ‘three strikes rule’, forcing those accused three times of sharing copyrighted material to be disconnected from the internet.
The court noted that a ‘substantial portion’ of UPC’s 150,000 customers were illegally sharing music.
In a judgment published today, Justice Peter Charleton said that laws were not in place to block the internet connections of those accused of sharing copyrighted content. However, he acknowledged that the creative industries are being blighted by internet piracy.
‘This not only undermines their [the creative industries] business but ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living,’ said Charleton. ‘It is destructive of an important native industry.’
The case was being closely watched by other internet service providers in the country as the music industry intensifies its push to penalise those sharing copyrighted work.
The Irish Recorded Music Association, which forced Ireland’s largest broaband provider, Eircom, to adopt the ‘three strikes’ policy on filesharing of its own accord after an out-of-court settlement in February 2009, said it was ‘extremely disappointed’ with the ruling, adding that it would look to the government to support the cause of rights holders.
Speaking after the judgment, the IRMA chairman, Willie Kavanagh, said: ‘We are extremely disappointed that the high court today has effectively determined that the Irish state has failed to protect the constitutional rights of copyright holders by failing to implement EU copyright directives correctly.’
IRMA had asked the internet service providers UPC and Vodafone to operate the three strikes ruling in the same way that Eircom had, but both declined, citing the rights of their respective broadband customers. A 48-hour scan of the two broadband networks found some 37,500 copyright infringements from UPC subscribers alone, IRMA said in June this year.
UPC, Ireland’s third largest broadband provider, said it would continue to work with rights holders, other internet service providers, the Data Protection Commission, the National Consumer Agency and government departments to address the issue of illegal filesharing.
‘UPC has repeatedly stressed that it does not condone piracy and has always taken a strong stance against illegal activity on its network,’ the company said in a statement. ‘It takes all steps required by the law to combat specific infringements which are brought to its attention and will continue to co-operate with rights holders where they have obtained the necessary court orders for alleged copyright infringements.
‘Our whole premise and defence [is] focused on the ‘mere conduit’ principle, which provides that an internet service provider cannot be held liable for content transmitted across its network,’ the company said. ‘Today’s decision supports the principle that ISPs are not liable for the actions of internet subscribers’.