Big four music labels to take UPC and BT to court

22 Jun 2009

Big Four music labels – Universal, Warner, Sony and EMI – are taking two of Ireland’s leading alternative licensed operators, UPC and BT, to court over illegal downloads and file sharing.

Cable broadband provider UPC has been issued with a plenary summons by the four main record labels. A similar summons has also been lodged against BT, with a hearing on 6 July.

The case stems from the out-of-court settlement agreed between the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) – which represents the Big Four labels – and Eircom in January, whereby Eircom agreed to implement a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy against illegal peer-to-peer (P2P) downloaders.

Incumbent operator Eircom also agreed to work with data provided by the Big Four labels to help them pinpoint and pursue illegal downloaders and uploaders. The ruling set a precedent and it was expected that all other internet service providers (ISPs) in the Irish market would be compelled to co-operate with the music industry.

In recent months, Irish ISPs have received legal letters from IRMA’s solicitors asking them to follow Eircom or face legal action.

In a statement on the matter over the weekend, UPC confirmed that the music companies wrote to all ISPs in the State to impose the ‘three strikes’ policy agreed with Eircom.

“UPC has made its position clear from the outset – it will not agree to a request that goes beyond what is currently provided under existing legislation. There is no basis under Irish law requiring ISPs to control, access or block the internet content its users download. In addition, the rights holders’ proposal gives rise to serious concerns for data privacy and consumer contract law.

“Irish and European law maintains a careful balance between the rights and obligations of copyright owners, internet users and ISPs. The ‘three strikes’ policy that was agreed with Eircom as part of the settlement, and any attempt to impose in upon the industry generally, seriously undermines that balance.”

In recent weeks, the French Constitutional Court overturned the controversial HADOPI legislation that introduced a ‘three strikes’ regime in France for persistent copyright infringers, which would eventually result in the perpetrator losing their internet connection.

The HADOPI legislation, the French Constitutional Court ruled, goes directly against a decision in the European Parliament – Amendment 138 – whereby disconnecting alleged copyright infringers would violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of internet users.

UPC said it was unfortunate that the music labels did not take up its suggestion to convene a stakeholder forum in which their concerns could be addressed. “UPC indicated that it would be willing to participate in such a forum, provided all relevant parties – ISPs, the Data Protection Commission, the National Consumer Agency and government departments – that have a vested interest in the matter were included.

“UPC has always taken a strong stance against illegal activity on its network. It takes all steps required by the law to combat specific infringements that are brought to its attention.

“UPC will continue to co-operate with rightsholders, where they have obtained the necessary court orders for alleged copyright infringements. It is regretful that the rightsholders have decided to pursue with their threat of legal action against UPC. Should proceedings commence, UPC intends to vigorously defend its position in court,” UPC stated.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years