Music labels pursue UPC in Commercial Court over illegal downloads

13 Jan 2015

Cable broadband player UPC is back in the courts as three music labels – Sony, Universal and Warner – are seeking an injunction against it over subscribers who have illegally downloaded music and movies.

The case opens today in the Commercial and is expected to last eight days.

It stems largely from an out-of-court settlement in 2009 between the labels and Eircom that saw the telecoms operator adopt a graduated response to tackle piracy.

In 2010 IRMA brought UPC to the High Court to get it to implement the same measures as Eircom.

UPC made the defence that just because Eircom agreed an out-of-court settlement with IRMA it does not mean it was obliged to do the same.

While UPC won the case, the judge pointed out that the Irish Government did not correctly transpose the EU Copyright Directive into law.

This gave rise to the controversial Statutory Instrument (SI) being signed into law in 2012.

The SI gives judges the power to grant injunctions against ISPs in relation to copyright infringement cases.

In 2012 UPC agreed to a court order to block The Pirate Bay and the KickAss torrent site.

Today counsel for the record labels described UPC’s solution to block such sites as an “illusory remedy” and called for UPC to implement a graduated response similar to Eircom’s three strikes.

Michael McDowell SC said that UPC’s network was being used to facilitate “wholesale theft” of copyrighted material.

Evidence of some 7,757 cases of illegal downloads out of a sample of 2,500 sound recordings in the month of October 2013 were presented before the court.

Careful balance

In a statement to media UPC said: “UPC will not agree to a request that goes beyond what is currently provided under existing legislation or in the absence of an order from the court.

“Irish and European law maintains a careful balance between the rights and obligations of copyright owners, internet users and ISPs. 

“We have throughout our arguments with IRMA and in all correspondence indicated that we absolutely acknowledge the rights authors and performers to be remunerated for their artistic efforts.  We take a strong stance on the infringement of copyright – indeed our very own business model depends on the protection of such material.

“As a legitimate business we are required to operate within the confines of the law and we will not enter into a voluntary arrangement that involves an ISP sanctioning customers for purportedly accessing illegal content. Where voluntary arrangements are in place in other countries between ISPs and rightsholders it is done on a pan industry basis with the support of government. 

“The graduated response system sought by IRMA in these proceedings lacks many of the consumer safeguards prevalent in jurisdictions where such voluntary arrangements are in place or more appropriately where specific and targeted legislative measures have been implemented.”

Copyright image via Shutterstock

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