In line with its new strategy of trying to force ISPs to take responsibility for the actions of their customers, in 2008 the ‘Big Four’ record labels, headed up by the IFPI, announced they would take Ireland’s largest ISP to court. The case began yesterday and is already proving controversial.
Last year, the Big Four record labels – EMI Records (Ireland) Ltd, Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Ireland) Ltd, Universal Music (Ireland) Ltd and Warner Music (Ireland) Ltd – started legal proceedings against Eircom, Ireland’s largest ISP. These giants run 90% of the music market in Ireland and together they want to force Eircom to end all music piracy carried out by its subscribers by implementing filtering technology, something the ISP refuses to do.
The legal action, under the Copyright and Related Rights Acts 2000, claims the ISP knowingly facilitated the infringements of its customers and is therefore liable for their actions. Willie Kavanagh, Managing Director of EMI records in Ireland said of Eircom: “With the greatest of respect” it was “well aware” that its customers used its networks to infringe copyrights “on a grand scale”. In response, Eircom (correctly) believes that as a carrier, it is under no obligation to monitor the content of traffic on its network.
Being heard by Justice Peter Charleton, the trial started yesterday in Court 7 at the Commercial Court and is listed to run for the next four weeks. Michael McDowell SC, a former politician now representing the ‘Big Four’ in the case, said Eircom should be forced to stop its customers from illegally downloading music. According to reports, he quickly began his attempts to portray Eircom in a bad light.
McDowell read out an internal email from 2001, written by Eircom’s head of Internet, Denis Curran, which noted that the issue of “MP3 piracy” should be the subject of discussion at a forthcoming management meeting. All fine so far, but Curran wrote “Piracy is a loaded term. Could we say ‘sharing‘- ‘piracy’ implies there’s something wrong with it.”
Clearly not realizing his off-the-cuff comments would be aired worldwide eight years down the line, Curran added “Think of it as helping the health and good living of rich cocaine sniffing rock stars by leaving them with less free money to spend on sex and drugs.”
McDowell didn’t stop there. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to imply that Eircom supports piracy, McDowell noted that only this week, the ISP was seen to be advertising its services on The Pirate Bay. Of course, Eircom would have no idea that this was the case, as they will have out-sourced their advertising to an agency.
In attempting to quantify the ‘losses’ incurred by the ‘Big Four’ at the hands of Eircom, McDowell noted that illegal downloading costs the Irish music industry 13.8 million Euros every year, and since Eircom has 40 per cent of the ISP market, it must be responsible for causing the industry losses of between 4 and 5 million Euros.
It will be no surprise if the rest of the statistics provided by the ‘Big Four’ and IFPI are equally vacuous.
The case continues.