Sound, vision – and some fury – at Digital Rights Forum (videos)

5 Apr 2012

(Left to right): editor John Kennedy; Innovation Minister Sean Sherlock, TD; ISPAI GM Paul Durrant; founder Tom Murphy; and Simon McGarr of McGarr Solicitors

In what was a stirring and exhilarating debate on Tuesday about Ireland’s copyright laws in which Innovation Minister Sean Sherlock made himself available to the public, the one thing that is clear is digital rights, IP and copyright laws could take years to get in working order. And for Ireland, a lot is at stake.

The night before the event, Sherlock’s reluctance to have Simon McGarr of McGarr Solicitors at the event dominated the Twittersphere. However, on reflection, he changed his mind and said he had no objection to McGarr being on the panel. “I want to extend the hand of friendship to you, Simon (McGarr), to move on with this debate,” Sherlock began in his address.

One thing that must be borne in mind about this debate is Sherlock’s willingness to discuss the legislation in public and I reminded the audience that this is unique in what is an argument taking place right across the globe; the level of access afforded by a minister to the public in the internet/copyright debate in Ireland has not happened elsewhere. Some members of the Twitterati acknowledged this and said fair play to the minister, but in general the tone on Twitter in relation to the State’s willingness to listen to the public on the matter of the controversial statutory instrument was combative, to say the least.

The lasting impression Tuesday’s debate left on me was this: the most frightening part of the entire statutory instrument debate in Ireland is how much we really don’t know lies ahead of us.

Part 1 of panel debate on digital copyright law and innovation at #DRF2012 

Part 1 of panel debate on digital copyright law and innovation at #DRF2012

That thought ran through my mind when I pointedly asked the GM of the ISP Association of Ireland Paul Durrant had any of his members received letters from labels in the aftermath of the passing of the statutory instrument that many fear will leave ISPs, intermediaries and private citizens open to court battles. He replied they had.

What lies ahead?

But the enormity of what lies ahead – and for which Ireland as a nation does not seem to be adequately prepared – or its citizens to be preparing themselves – is ownership of the internet, not just the content, but basic freedoms. founder Tom Murphy described the statutory instrument as a ‘raindrop’ compared to the flood that will soon envelope us.

While this right now sounds a little extreme, what opened my eyes today was how open-ended the statutory instrument that was signed into law amending the Copyright Act 2000 is in the eyes of its bitterest opponents.

Who really is open to being sued by record labels if someone shares a video or song on Facebook? Me, you, Facebook, YouTube, the ISP?

Part 2 of debate on copyright law and piracy at #DRF2012 

Part 2 of debate on copyright law and piracy at #DRF2012

A second alternative statutory instrument that may have been less harmful and divisive apparently may not have even been seen by the Attorney General, a factor that was raised amid a furious debate between Murphy and Sherlock.

For much of the debate, Sherlock was emphatic that signing the statutory instrument was one step on a road that involves the work of the Copyright Review Commission to deliver new copyright legislation that would put Ireland at the forefront of digital legislation and innovation.

He said the key was to devise legislation that meant intermediaries like, in the event of a transgression by a member of the public, wouldn’t have to put aside a massive warchest of funds to deal with lawsuits, in particular spurious claims.

Solicitor McGarr, who, along with Michele Neylon and TJ McIntyre, tabled the Stop SOPA Ireland petition that attracted 80,000 signatures, returned constantly to the fact that the will of the people of Ireland wasn’t taken into account and that an important middle ground has been abandoned.

Durrant echoed Murphy’s concerns that the statutory instrument in its current form is too vague and presents more dangers than solutions. He said it deals, in particular, with third-party content and this is an area that could have grave consequences for emerging sectors, like cloud computing.

“We need certainty in this country where we are trying to retain the multinationals.”

Durrant also pointed out that Ireland is a signatory to the global Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which also proposes draconian responses to alleged copyright infringement, including three-strikes remedies.

To my mind, Murphy made the key point of the entire debate: “Copyright laws are a reflection of a country’s innovation.”

Part 3 of debate on copyright law in Ireland at #DRF2012 

Part 3 of debate on copyright law in Ireland at #DRF2012

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