In a court case that will be watched with interest by telecom firms and internet service providers all over the world, Ireland’s largest broadband provider Eircom is being sued by the big four labels, EMI, Universal, Warner Music and Sony BMG, for failing to prevent illegal music downloads on its network.
The four labels yesterday brought a High Court action against Eircom in the first case to be 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 nub of the Eircom case is that the largest telecoms operator in the Republic of Ireland has allegedly refused to use 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.
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.
Kavanagh attributed a substantial portion of this decline to illegal peer-to-peer downloading services made all the more possible by high speed broadband.
The companies want orders under the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 to restrain Eircom from allowing its network to be used for the illegal download or sharing of copyrighted material.
The proceedings brought by the four record companies were admitted yesterday by Mr Justice Peter Kelly to the list of the Commercial Court.
Eircom is understood to have told the companies it was not on notice of specific illegal activity that infringed copyright and had no legal obligation to monitor traffic on its network.
The action by the four companies marks an increasing militancy on the part of the record industry, which has seen its earnings eroded by the advent of music sharing over the internet.
In recent months, U2 manager, Paul McGuinness, told the European Commission it’s time to get tough on illegal downloading and suggested anyone caught downloading copyrighted material should be banned from having broadband.
By John Kennedy