Ireland’s SOPA – the day of reckoning approaches

6 Feb 2012

The end, the beginning of the end, or a whole new start? Tomorrow, Ireland's digital destiny could be decided at the stroke of a minister's pen

Tomorrow, the controversial statutory instrument concerning a change to the Copyright Act 2000 to correct a loophole in the legislation – dubbed ‘Ireland’s SOPA’ – goes before Cabinet.

The ultimate decision can go one of either two ways.

Firstly, the statutory instrument gets signed into law and the battle between internet service providers (ISPs) and record labels is out of the Government’s hands and is firmly in the hands of the courts.

Or secondly, the State may decide that the matter needs more consideration and the process of forming and designing realistic, primary legislation that is fit for purpose for the digital age may begin.

In the past two weeks, a petition against the statutory instrument received some 80,255 signatures.

More than 1,300 of the signees have pledged to visit their TD on the matter.

The entire matter concerns a court case between UPC and IRMA in 2010 in which the presiding judge Mr Justice Peter Charleton pointed out that existing legislation did not give him the power to grant injunctions against ISPs because the European directive had not been fully transposed.

This failure to transpose the directive has given the record labels a powerful motive to sue the Irish Government if the statutory instrument isn’t passed. For a country afflicted by a property bust, the collapse of its financial system and support of the IMF, a drawn-out and expensive court case may prove unpalatable.

At the same time, it is worth remembering that ICT and digital media are the silver lining in the dark clouds that have gathered over the country in recent years, yielding investment, jobs and opportunity and hope for entrepreneurs, job seekers and future graduates.

What if Irish SOPA is signed?

Last Friday, the ISPAI, an organisation representing ISPs, spoke out at the potential damage the statutory instruments could cause.

They warned that the changes to the legislation will open a can of worms that ultimately harm the country’s standing in the global internet industry.

They pointed out that the statutory instrument will mean that issues of copyright and illegal downloads will be debated on a court-by-court basis. They say this is going to be economically unsustainable for ISPs to contest. It may also be unsustainable for internet companies that have located in Ireland.

They also pointed out that isolating individual tracks and blocking content is not easy and checking and quantifying the vast array of internet services could grind the internet to a halt.

“What makes this so sad, is the government is trying to tell us that at the same time, that they see Ireland as a hub for cloud computing services, which by definition are services hosting other people’s content and more than other online businesses exposed to the vagaries of this S.I.,” the ISPAI stated.

The important thing to bear in mind is that since Napster burst onto the scene 13 years ago, no collaboration between rights holders and ISPs in fighting online piracy has taken place.

New and emerging models such as Netflix and Spotify are the way forward and should be seen as a model for new revenue for the record companies and video industries. There can be no question that these industries have indeed lost millions through piracy and the acts of illegal downloaders and file sharers.

But the reality is most people for a reasonable fee would subscribe to content services and happily pay for quality content. There is a future, it just needs to be explored … and importantly for a State, facilitated.

Tomorrow, the Government of Ireland will usher the country and its digital dreams down one of either two paths.

Let’s hope the right decision is made.

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