File-Sharing 3 Strikes Killed in Ireland, Government Promises Site Blocking

Following an investigation into the legality of a 3 strikes-style anti-filesharing mechanism operated by Irish ISP Eircom, the country's Data Protection Commissioner has now ordered the practice to be brought to a halt on privacy grounds. But this setback for rightsholders was immediately countered by government promises to swiftly publish an order enabling rightsholders to have file-sharing sites blocked by ISPs.

In February 2009, the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) reached an 11th hour out-of-court settlement with Irish ISP Eircom on the issue of illicit file-sharing. The deal would see Eircom, at the behest of IRMA members EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner, introduce a graduated response system for dealing with errant subscribers.

Eircom announced in December 2010 that it would be “proceeding with implementation of the protocol which could result in the suspension and ultimately disconnection of broadband service for those customers who deliberately and persistently infringe copyright,” but by October 2010 things we already going wrong. Due to a mix up, Eircom sent out around 300 warning letters to completely innocent subscribers.

This huge error ushered in the involvement of Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) and a wider investigation into the legality of the entire three strikes system. Now, according to a report, that decision is in and for the music industry it’s the worst possible news. The DPC has ordered a complete halt to the practice on privacy grounds.

“Now both the courts and the official DPC are beginning to realize the fundamental right of people to access the Internet, and not to be monitored while they do so,” says lawyer TJ McIntyre of Digital Rights Ireland.

But before free-flow-of-information proponents get too excited, the news is countered this morning by a sobering report which says that if file-sharers can’t be cut off from the Internet, then file-sharing websites shall be made forcibly unavailable to them.

According to The Irish Times, Minister of State for Enterprise Seán Sherlock will publish an order early 2012 that will allow rightsholders to go to court to prevent the country’s ISPs from supplying their subscribers’ access to infringing site. What actually defines an infringing site remains to be seen.

The action comes in response to threats from recording label EMI, which said it would take legal action against the country if the government there failed to take action. In response the Department of Enterprise, Innovation and Jobs wrote back to EMI confirming the order would be published and entered into law next month.

The move follows legal action by IRMA against ISP UPC, which ended in 2010 with Mr Justice Peter Charleton acknowledging that recording companies were being harmed by Internet piracy but that current law did not provide for blocking injunctions.

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