Radical copyright law reform to boost Ireland’s digital economy?

9 May 2011

A process of reform of Ireland’s copyright regime has been kick started by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton TD in a move he says is aimed at maximising the potential of Ireland’s digital industries.

Bruton is instigating review of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 which he says will identify any areas of the legislation that might be considered to create barriers to innovation in the digital environment.

The move follows a furore in recent months when it emerged certain statutory instruments were being prepared specifically to tackle the issue of illegal downloads and the role of internet service providers (ISPs). At the time, the Department of Enterprise confirmed the advice of the Attorney General was being sought on the issue.

In October last year, UPC was successful in a court case over the implementation of ‘three strikes’ rules against illegal downloaders which were sought by the music industry’s big four labels, EMI, Universal, Warner and Sony. The judge presiding the case, Mr Justice Peter Charleton, held that laws seeking to identify and disconnect copyright infringers was not enforceable in Ireland regardless of the record companies’ complaints.

The issue of changes to Ireland’s copyright laws in certain quarters are being viewed as harmful in terms of Ireland’s success in capturing some of the biggest names in the internet economy, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft and many others.

However, members of Ireland’s audio-visual sector have dismissed this argument as a deliberate red herring designed to protect ISPs’ own interests and doesn’t take into account the damage widespread copyright infringement is having on jobs in the creative industries.

The chairman of Xtra-Vision Peter O’Grady Walshe told Siliconrepublic.com recently: “What is needed is a clarification added to the existing copyright laws that ‘reasonable steps are taken’ by purveyors of content to ensure that they take necessary action to ensure they are not the source of illegal or counterfeit content. That is all.”

Ireland is moving towards a ‘fair use’ doctrine

This morning, Bruton said: “I am determined that Government will make whatever changes are necessary to allow innovative digital companies to reach their full potential in Ireland. These companies make an enormous contribution to jobs and economic growth, and Government must do everything it can to allow them to flourish and expand in Ireland.

“Some companies have indicated that the current copyright legislation does not cater well for the digital environment and actually creates barriers to innovation and to the establishment of new business models. Moving towards a US-style ‘fair use’ doctrine is one suggestion that has been made.

“I am determined to respond to these suggestions in a comprehensive and timely manner. It is not wise to make changes to this extremely complex area of legislation without first considering the issues in detail.

“Therefore, I have commenced a time-limited review of the law in the area to be conducted by three industry experts. The review will include a full consultation process with all relevant stakeholders, and the entire process will be complete within six months.

“If they find that there are changes that can be made, within the confines of EU and other law in this area, which can enhance the environment for innovation by digital companies, I will move swiftly to act.”

Dr Eoin O’Dell of Trinity College, Dublin will chair the review committee and will include Prof Steven Hedley of University College Cork and Patricia McGovern of DFMG Solicitors.

Details of the review and the Terms of Reference are available online.

Submissions to the Copyright Review Committee should be sent to copyrightreview@deti.ie or posted to Copyright Review, Room 517, Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, Kildare Street, Dublin 2. Submissions should be received by close of business on Thursday, 30 June 2011.

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