SOPA, so good – Sherlock holds off copyright change until Dail debate

27 Jan 2012

Junior Minister at the Department of Jobs, Enteprise and Innovation Sean Sherlock,TD

Just like waves of protest in the US held off the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), in Ireland public concern expressed in the form of a petition and public debate have encouraged junior Minister Sean Sherlock, TD, to hold off from signing a controversial legislative change until it is debated in the Dail.

In what is clearly a victory for the power of expression via the internet in Ireland, unease at the passing of a statutory instrument that would have given courts powers to grant injunctions against ISPs in cases surrounding illegal downloads saw a petition gain 30,000 signatures within two days.

The issue even saw the websites of the Department of Finance and the Department of Justice hit by distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS) attacks by hacker activist collective Anonymous earlier in the week.

While obviously not on a scale with the anti-SOPA/PIPA protests in the US that saw millions write to and petition politicians, and hundreds of prominent sites including Wikipedia blacking out for a day, the debate around the statutory instrument raged furiously on Twitter, on Irish national radio and the statutory instrument has been made public.

A brief debate took place in the Dail on the matter last night and it is understood that Sherlock has given a commitment that a proper debate will take place, most likely next week.

Online news site The Journal quoted Sherlock as saying last night there will be a debate – possibly next week – before the statutory instrument is signed into law.

Statutory instruments are changes to legislation that are usually signed at a stroke of a minister’s pen without any debate in the Dail or Senate.

This particular statutory instrument would have made changes to the Copyright Act of 2000 and was designed to address a loophole whereby courts could not grant injunctions forcing ISPs to block users’ internet access or apply three-strikes style remedies if they were suspected of illegal downloading.

In a High Court in late 2010, in a case between UPC and the recording industry, UPC won the case because of existing laws. In his judgment, Mr Justice Peter Charleton held that laws seeking to identify and disconnect copyright infringers were not enforceable in Ireland, regardless of the record companies’ complaints.

Charlton said he was cognisant of the financial harm being suffered by record labels due to illegal downloading. “This not only undermines their business but ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living. It is destructive of an important native industry,” Charleton said.

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