Big four music labels and Eircom in landmark piracy settlement

28 Jan 2009

A landmark settlement today at the High Court in Dublin between big-four music labels Warner, Sony BMG, EMI and Universal and internet provider Eircom will give the labels the firepower they need to curb music piracy.

Eircom has agreed to implement a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy against illegal peer-to-peer (P2P) downloaders, while also agreeing to work with data provided by the big four labels to help them pinpoint and pursue illegal downloaders and uploaders.

The ruling means a precedent has been set, and all other ISPs in the Irish market will now have to co-operate with the music industry.

The move will have global ramifications as other labels in other jurisdictions will be able to follow a similar route to punish illegal downloaders.

At Court No 7 in Dublin’s High Court, barristers huddled and hammered out the terms of the settlement – and it looked like it could go either way – before presenting Mister Justice Peter Charlton with the text of the settlement.

Last year, the four largest labels in the world, through the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA), instigated legal proceedings against Eircom, the largest internet service provider in Ireland, which has a 40pc market share.

The labels wanted Eircom to install filtering software, such as Audible Magic ,to help prevent the rise of music piracy, which coincided with, and which they believe is responsible for, falling music sales.

Over the course of six years, sales of music CDs in the Irish market went from €146m to €102m in 2007. Music piracy, the labels say, is costing them/

Up until that point, the companies spent over €600,000 in legal expenses against Irish illegal music downloaders – including one individual who downloaded 37,000 tracks – and gained only €70,000 in compensation. Globally, according to the IFPI, over US$40bn worth of music was illegally downloaded last year, up from US$20bn in 2006.

The High Court trial ended today after eight days, and both sides have settled on an amicable basis.

Both parties have agreed on a joint approach under which they will work closely together to end the abuse of the internet by P2P copyright infringers.

The record companies will use a service called DetecNet, which poses as a P2P file sharer to target the offending downloaders and supply Eircom with the IP addresses of suspected copyright thieves.

Eircom said it will embark on a graduated process that will see it inform broadband subscribers that their IP address has been detected infringing copyright, warn them that unless it ceases they will be disconnected, and if they fail to comply they will be disconnected.

The record companies have agreed that they will take all necessary steps to put similar agreements with other ISPs in Ireland.

Speaking with after the court case, Willie Kavanagh, chairman of IRMA and head of EMI in Ireland, said: “This is a breakthrough. I think all parties will be happy that’s the end of it.

“We will talk to the other ISPs in the country to hammer out a similar agreement. This move we believe will increase legitimate downloads as well,” Kavanagh said.

A spokesman for Eircom explained to that the collaboration with the labels will not involve any network intervention. “Effectively, a third party will be hired by the labels to find out who are the largest illegal P2P downloaders. They will then come to us with the IP addresses of the suspected parties.

“We won’t reveal the identities of the users, but we will contact them and if they fail to comply we will follow the process agreed with the music industry. Currently the industry pursues these individuals in the court. We will now begin a three-step process that will begin with the issuing of a warning.

“The labels have agreed to pursue similar deals with other ISPs in the marketplace,” the Eircom spokesman said.

By John Kennedy

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