Digital Top Stories

Ireland may make ISPs take more responsibility for file-sharing

By | Published on Thursday 23 June 2011

Warning Letter

The Irish government has published proposals for a revision of Ireland’s copyright laws which, although not explicitly introducing a three-strikes system for combating online piracy, could lay the groundwork for such an process to be forced on the country’s internet service providers.

As previously reported, three-strikes – like that being introduced in the UK under the Digital Economy Act – does exist in Ireland, but only for customers of Eircom, the country’s biggest net provider. They voluntarily agreed to introduce a so called ‘graduated response’ system, in which file-sharing customers are sent warning letters threatening ‘technical measures’ (ie account suspension) if they don’t stop accessing content illegally, as part of an out of court settlement in relation to legal action launched against them by the Irish record industry.

As part of the agreement between Eircom and the Irish record labels, the latter agreed to lobby the former’s competitors to introduce three-strikes also. But those efforts were hindered last year when another ISP – called UPC – refused to introduce any such measures, and won a court battle over the issue, in which a judge agreed with the net firm when it said it had no obligation under current Irish copyright law to help content owners enforce their IP rights.

Needless to say, that motivated the Irish music industry to step up its lobbying efforts with government in a bid to have copyright law rewritten. So much so, there were rumours in February ministers were planning to sneak through a new statutory instrument just before Ireland’s General Election putting an obligation on ISPs to help police piracy. Although those rumours turned out to be untrue, the Consultation On Amendment To Copyright & Related Rights Act, 2000 announced this week could result in something similar.

The paperwork published about the proposed amendment explicitly states the government is not proposing the introduction of a statutory three-strikes system like in the UK and France, but rather it would put an obligation on ISPs to help rights owners, so much so that the judge in the aforementioned UPC case may have been able to force the net company to collaborate with the record companies, thus enabling the music industry to pressure all of Eircom’s rivals to follow that ISP’s lead.

Those who oppose such a development are sure to hone in on a recent TorrentFreak report that revealed Eircom had accidentally sent ‘first strike’ copyright infringement letters to 300 non-file-sharers last year because of a ‘technical glitch’. That error is now being investigated by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who may review the whole of Eircom’s three-strikes system as part of his investigation.