Ireland should not rush its anti-piracy laws

21 Mar 2011

The UK has admitted it will take until 2012 to launch new legislation aimed at tacking internet piracy. Ireland would be wise to follow suit rather than rush through shoddy legislation that could threaten an entire industry and hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs.

Before the elections, I wrote how a number of statutory instruments regarding internet piracy in the Copyright Act, which would give judges the power to get ISPs to apply three-strikes remedies, were about to be through at the last minute before the changing of government. The then-Enterprise Minister Mary Hanafin hotly denied that any such legislation was being put through.

No doubt the music industry, which is understood to have lost millions in potential revenues because of illegal downloading and peer-to-peer file sharing, might have welcomed the statutory instruments being passed. But what politicians need to understand is the wider implications on the overall internet industry that Ireland has attracted. We can’t rush this kind of legislation.

The local telecoms industry at the time expressed relief that no instruments would be signed without proper industry consultation. We must stick to this course – it is in everyone’s interests that the creative industries are protected because the creative industries are, in fact, key to the future of the telecoms sector.

That’s why proper consideration, communication and joined up thinking are needed on this issue.

The UK has already delayed its Digital Economy Act, which is being challenged by BT and Talk Talk, which aims to force broadband providers to collect data on customers which they would then have had to match against record industry and movie industry databases to catch copyright infringers.

The Digital Economy Act, which was rushed through in the dying days of the previous Labour government in the UK, has hit a number of administrative and regulatory hurdles and will need to be challenged. This is mainly due to the fact that the Labour government had not realised it needed EU approval for the Act’s cost-sharing arrangements – which put 75pc of the burden on copyright holders and 25pc on broadband providers.

Other provisions of the Act, which grant the UK government powers to force broadband providers block access to websites accused of copyright infringement, are to be reviewed by Ofcom because there are doubts they could work in practice.

Ireland as the internet capital of Europe

In the past decade, Ireland has become home to household names in the internet industry, namely Google, Amazon, Facebook, LinkedIn and eBay, not to mention the long-established presence of major industry giants including Apple, HP and Intel, to name but a few.

There are many bright minds at work convinced Ireland could actually set the global standard for managing intellectual property and protecting copyright.They believe Ireland could be a clearing house for copyright issues and in effect could determine the next Hollywood.

The danger the rapid passing of the statutory instrument without proper debate and consultation would have posed for Ireland’s nascent internet industry is enormous, its costs are incalculable. Hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in local and global internet and gaming firms would have been put at risk.

You only need to imagine what kind of signal such legislation would have sent to executives at YouTube or Facebook in Dublin.

In the UK, Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert has been commissioned to come up with an alternative approach to tackling internet piracy.

Internet piracy costs the UK’s creative industries stg£400m a year. In Ireland, record labels Universal, Sony, Warner and EMI say that over six years, sales of music CDs in the Irish market went from €146m to €102m in 2007. Globally, according to the IFPI, more than US$40bn worth of music was illegally downloaded in 2007, up from US$20bn in 2006.

No one in their right mind would for a second think that piracy pays. Everyone agrees it should be tackled and prevented.

But for a country like Ireland that has good credentials in place to claim the title internet capital of Europe, proper debate and consultation on the matter must be encouraged.

The new Government, especially the new Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation Richard Bruton and the new Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte need to pay close attention to this issue, study it carefully and implement balanced, and thoughtful legislation that all concerned can agree upon.

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