Lobby group Digital Rights Ireland has broadly condemned the legal action being brought by big four record labels EMI, Universal, Warner and Sony BMG against Eircom for allegedly failing to block illegal music downloads on its broadband networks.
Warning that if the action succeeds, not only might it result in increased internet monitoring of users, it will cost Eircom €3.3m a year to implement and will damage Ireland’s reputation as a web- and internet-friendly country.
“Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are intermediaries. They are not, in law, responsible for what internet users do, any more than An Post is responsible for what individuals send in the mail,” said Digital Rights Ireland chairman, TJ McIntyre.
“In fact, European law specifically states they may not be put under a general obligation to monitor the information they transmit. This action undermines this principle and threatens the privacy of internet users – in much the same way as if An Post had to open and examine the contents of every letter they carry.”
On Monday, the four labels brought a High Court action against Eircom in the first case aimed at a service provider rather than at individual illegal downloaders. The plaintiffs say 20 billion music files were illegally downloaded in the world last year and for every one legal download there are 20 illegal ones.
The managing director of EMI Records and chairman of the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA), Willie Kavanagh, said the Irish music industry has suffered a decline in total sales from €146m in 2001 to €102m in 2007.
The big four music labels claim Eircom, the largest telecoms operator in the Republic of Ireland, has refused to use a specific filtering technology or other measures to voluntarily block or filter material that violates copyrights and licences from its network.
The record companies say a specific piece of software from Audible Magic Corporation can block specified recordings from being shared.
McIntyre warned the technology will result in ISPs being obliged to monitor everything internet users do – in effect acting as private censors without warrants against innocent users.
“If the music industry has evidence a particular person is sharing copyrighted files then they can and already do take action against that person. If they do not have that evidence then they should not be demanding ISPs monitor innocent users.”
McIntyre said evidence in other jurisdictions proves that if the labels succeed it will cost Eircom €3.3m a year to implement the kind of monitoring technology they want and he believed the cost could end up being passed on to internet subscribers.
He adds that the filtering technology is not perfect and may result in legitimate files or files that are out of copyright or feature in the background being blocked, infringing freedom of expression.
But the damage to Ireland’s ambitions for the knowledge economy could also be severe as the country’s reputation as an internet-friendly nation will be questioned.
“By requiring companies to police the actions of their users – a duty which they are not subject to in other jurisdictions such as the US – it will harm inward investment and encourage technology firms to relocate elsewhere.
“The music industry’s proposal is technically very easy to circumvent,” McIntyre pointed out. “If implemented, Irish file sharers will simply move to encrypted peer-to-peer systems, which are impossible for the ISP to monitor.
“This will completely negate any benefit of the system while still leaving Irish consumers to pay its costs,” he warned.
By John Kennedy