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Court rules Irish laws do not obligate three-strikes

By | Published on Tuesday 12 October 2010

The roll out of three-strikes in Ireland will require a change in the law, a judge in Dublin confirmed yesterday. I think we already knew that though.

As previously reported, Ireland’s biggest internet service provider, Eircom, has already started operating a three-strikes style anti-piracy system after reaching an out of court settlement with the Irish record industry. As part of that settlement the record companies agreed to continue to pressure Eircom’s rivals to introduce similar measures. But one of those rivals, UPC (formerly Chorus NTL), went to court to ask a judge to confirm that, under current Irish copyright laws, it was not obliged to do the three-strikes thing.

And yesterday Mr Justice Peter Charleton did exactly that. He said that, in his opinion, the record companies definitely were suffering because of the rise of internet piracy, and that that was bad news for the next generation of Irish musicians. He also remarked that there was arguably an obligation under European law to do something to enforce intellectual property rights online.

But, he concluded, under current Irish laws, UPC could not be forced to suspend or disconnect prolific file-sharers, and were not liable for any infringement that occurred as a result of such inaction. 

It was one of those rulings that gave hope to both sides though. UPC said its argument had been vindicated, while the record industry said Charleton’s remarks supported their case for copyright law reform.

A spokesman for the net firm said: “UPC has repeatedly stressed that it does not condone piracy and has always taken a strong stance against illegal activity on its network. [But] our whole premise and defence focused on the mere conduit principal which provides that an internet service provider cannot be held liable for content transmitted across its network and today’s decision supports the principal that ISPs are not liable for the actions of internet subscribers”.

Meanwhile, Dick Doyle of the Irish Recorded Music Association told the Irish Times: “The High Court has acknowledged that Irish artists, composers and recording companies are sustaining huge losses and internet providers are profiting from the wholesale theft of music. The judge made it very clear that a [three-strikes style] injunction would be morally justified but that the Irish legislature had failed in its obligation to confer on the courts the right to grant such injunctions, unlike other EU states. We will now look to the Irish government to fully vindicate the constitutional rights of copyright holders and we reserve the right to seek compensation for the past and continuing losses from the State”.

Ireland’s Minister For Communications, Eamon Ryan, who would lead any change in Irish copyright rules, vowed to continue to talk to Doyle and the record industry about the three-strikes issue, though stressed things weren’t quite as simple as IRMA often suggest. A spokesman for his office also noted that in France and the UK, where three-strikes is being introduced, legal problems remain for the anti-piracy systems.

But what, I hear you ask, does Sharon ‘of the Corrs’ Corr think about all this? That’s what really matters, surely? She, of course, called for a three-strikes law in Ireland at a recent music business conference in Dublin. And yesterday she said: “I think that everything the judge said in his statement strongly inferred that he would have preferred a [three-strikes] law to be in place. We need legislation. We need the government to do that, not for me, not so I can make some money, but so we have a strong music industry. That industry has been a great part of our culture, which we have been exporting forever”.