Thursday 9 December 2010

Oh the luck - Irish get three strikes back - and a new music service too!

Eircom, the Irish internet service provider, has resumed its policy of cutting off the internet connection of customers who illegally share music online. The company had suspended its policy earlier this year but before this the company sent out about 1,000 warning notifications each week to people who were allegedly infringing copyright by illegally downloading music. Its “three strikes” policy allows customers three official warnings before their internet connection is suspended.

The move is especially interesting given that the Mr Justice Charleton, in Irish High Court, had (somewhat reluctantly) agreed with rival broadband supplier UPC in a battle against several record companies, ruling that internet service providers were not liable for a customer’s illegal downloading nor did Irish law provide any basis for a ‘three strikes’ approach. In an very impressive presentation on recent case law in this area at the Music and IP conference in London yesterday (8th December) 5RB barrister Christina Michalos explained that Mr Justice Charleton said that there was no injunctive relief available in Ireland in the matter and that Irish copyright legislation made ”no proper provision for the blocking, diverting or interrupting of internet communications intent on breaching copyright” - and that the powers of Irish courts did not extend to obligating an ISP to block access to file sharing sites. Despite this, Eircom has decided to resume the strategy it implemented a year earlier following an out-of-court settlement with the same companies. Stephen Brennan, Eircom’s managing director for consumers and small businesses said that as the country’s largest broadband provider, Eircom felt its method of warning internet users about their activities was the best compromise between music companies and internet providers. Before the suspension Eircom had not actually yet disconnected any customers’ broadband but it did have some on three strikes at the time of the High Court case.

Simultaneously Eircom has launched a new online legal service, MusicHub, which offers free and unlimited streaming to Eircom broadband customers along with deals for legally downloading music to personal computers offering a range of bundled download packages where the unit price for each track downloaded could be as low as 32 cents. Launching the new service yesterday, Eircom's Stephen Beynon said "MusicHub is a major development for Eircom in the online content space. We are the first and only internet provider in Ireland to offer online streaming as part of a music service. Customers will not find a greater selection of music across all genres anywhere else in Ireland from their broadband provider". Mr Brennan described it as the “carrot” part of the company’s carrot-and-stick approach to counteracting copyright infringement, with the three strike process agreed with record labels being the “stick”. An Eircom's statement stressed net suspensions was a "measure of last resort".

EMI Records & Others v UPC Communications Ireland Ltd (2010) IEHC 377

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