ISPs need to wise up on movie piracy – Xtra-vision boss

21 Apr 2011

Issues like ‘three strikes’ and scaremongering in the ICT sector over changes to Ireland’s copyright laws are distracting from the real issue of movie and music piracy, the head of Ireland’s biggest movie rental firms told

Xtra-vision has 200 stores across Ireland and employs 1,600 people. It was bought back from Blockbuster in 2009 as part of a 2009 acquisition by Birchhall Investments, a firm backed by NCB Ventures and Pageant Holdings, a client firm of NCB Wealth Management.

The chairman of Xtra-vision, Peter O’Grady Walshe, was speaking to in the wake of UK ISPs BT and TalkTalk losing a judicial review of the UK Digital Economy Act on all but one of the legal issues raised.

Under the Act rights holders have to collect data about people believed to be illegally downloading film and music from file-sharing sites and ISPs will then match them against rights holders data on studio and label databases and send warning letters to those accused of breaching copyright. Repeat offenders will have their internet access slowed or even blocked under secondary measures in the Act.

O’Grady Walshe said that while he doesn’t argue against the idea of the internet being a human right, the core issue is ISPs should be doing more to block illegal movies from being downloaded via their networks in the first place.

In the UK alone, illegal file sharing is costing the industry stg£400m a year in lost sales. In Ireland over the course of six years, sales of music CDs in the Irish market went from €146m to €102m in 2007, the local industry says. Globally, according to the IFPI, more than US$40bn worth of music was illegally downloaded in 2007, up from US$20bn in 2006.

“As a purveyor of content in Ireland, under the existing copyright legislation if Xtra-vision was told it was selling illegal or libellous content we would pull every DVD or CD copy of the item in question from every store. If Eason’s was told a publication like a book, newspaper or magazine was infringing copyright or was libellous it would bundle up every copy and send it back to the publisher. However, ISPs know their networks are providing illegal content daily and would rather do nothing.”

O’Grady Walshe said certain television providers have clamped down aggressively on illegal digital box providers because they know that activity is harming their earnings, yet see it differently when it comes to the fact that internet users can download illegal content via their networks knowing the activity is harming other industries.

He said Mr Justice Peter Charleton’s ruling in December, while a victory for cable provider UPC, highlighted a key gap in copyright laws.

Charleton highlighted the financial harm being caused to the film and music industries by illegal downloading. “This not only undermines their business but ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living. It is destructive of an important native industry.”

‘Reasonable steps’ required by ISPs to combat counterfeiting

O’Grady Walshe elaborated: “What is needed is a clarification added to the existing copyright laws that ‘reasonable steps are taken’ by purveyors of content to ensure that they take necessary action to ensure they are not the source of illegal or counterfeit content. That is all.”

He said that Xtra-vision would have paid more than €100m in taxes in recent years. “Until something is done soon that business will disappear.”

He added there are other knock-on benefits for the ISPs, too.“In Sweden, when The Pirate Bay was removed they saw a 40pc increase in bandwidth on their broadband networks because of a fall in movie piracy alone.

“If you ask me, the three strikes debate is a distraction from the real issue. Such a step is actually unnecessary. Purveyors of content need to take action to prevent illegal downloading on their networks. It begins with the ISPs, they need to step up to the plate and admit that people are using their networks to get their hands on free, illegal downloadable content.”

O’Grady Walshe said the dynamics of his particular industry are changing and industry initiatives like Ultraviolet, which will create a movie locker in the cloud for consumers, will be of particular use in helping the industry ensure digital rights management (DRM) and ensuring that artists are rewarded for the content they have created.

“If you think of all the millions that the Irish Film Board, for example, has put into supporting Irish filmmakers and Irish artists. Basically, unless this gap in the copyright laws is addressed you are offering a free ride for someone to steal an Irish film.”

He said that there have been questions in recent months of the ICT industry in Ireland being damaged if ‘draconian’ changes to Irish copyright laws took hold and dismissed this as a red herring simply designed to sew confusion.

“All that is needed is a clarification, not a change to existing laws, requiring purveyors of content – from booksellers, music and video stores and ISPs to ensure that ‘reasonable steps’ are taken to prevent copyright theft occurring,” O’Grady Walshe said.

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