Irish Government Wants File-Sharing Compromise, or Legislation Will Follow

Conor Lenihan, Minister of State with responsibility for Science, Technology and Innovation, has indicated he hasn't given up on the chance of a negotiated settlement of the illicit file-sharing issue in Ireland. In an Intellectual Property debate, Lenihan praised the IRMA/Eircom agreement and said that while he hopes there can be more arrangements of this type, if they do not arrive, legislation will be the outcome.

After reaching a negotiated settlement with ISP Eircom to deal with file-sharing, the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) took ISP UPC to court after it refused to implement a similar scheme.

In a hearing last month at Ireland’s High Court, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said that recording companies were being harmed by Internet piracy but noted that laws to cut off file-sharers were not enforceable in Ireland. This meant that UPC won their case against IRMA.

In a government debate last week titled Protection of Intellectual Property Rights, one of the topics of discussion centered around illicit file-sharing, the October ruling, and where Ireland goes from here.

“The area in question is complex and encompasses issues such as the illegal downloading of copyrighted material, the treatment of ISPs in such circumstances, the obligations imposed on member states by EU law and the upcoming requirement for Ireland to transpose the 2009 framework directive on a common regulatory framework for electronic communication networks and services,” began Conor Lenihan, Minister of State with responsibility for Science, Technology and Innovation.

Noting that a copy of the judgment had been sent to the Attorney General’s office for advice, Lenihan went on to explain in length his opinions on the importance of solid trademark, patent and copyright protection mechanisms.

“A rigorous and effective system for the protection of copyright, and what are deemed to be related rights, is necessary to provide authors and producers with a just reward for their creative efforts and also to encourage producers and publishers to continue to invest in creative works,” said Lenihan. “In the modern world of business, the intangible assets of a company are often more valuable than the company’s physical assets.”

While all present made a worthwhile contribution to the debate, Independent Senator David Norris had some interesting comments to consider when trying to find a solution to the file-sharing issue.

“I have been approached by various interests in this area and I believe there is a balance of rights to be achieved because there is an entire generation of young people who believe, rightly or wrongly, with or without legal support, they have developed an entitlement to free downloading. That is embedded in our culture,” he explained.

“There will be a public relations difficulty in selling whatever agreement is reached and one must be aware of the interests of young people. That is what I would say is the establishment of apparent rights on the ground. The facts are stark. The majority of young people – 675,000 in the space of a year – are engaged in this practice. That is an enormous number of people and therefore this matter must be addressed without alienating an entire section of our community,” added Norris.

Although he didn’t quote his source, Norris went on to indicate that the High Court ruling had the effect of increasing file-sharing in Ireland.

“There has been an increase of more than 30% in such downloads because the public were given the impression that it was perfectly legal,” he told the debate. This statement was supported by Mark Deary of the Green Party who said that music industry figures indicated that the weekend following the ruling there was “a significant spike in download traffic.”

Norris added that 60% of Irish ISPs are either supporting the music industry or are prepared to do so, presumably with an Eircom-style arrangement. Some 40% are apparently holding back.

“Within weeks of being in my current job, and before this High Court ruling by Mr. Justice Charleton, I invited the Internet service providers and telecommunications companies to my office. We had a long discussion, although it was not very profitable,” said Minister of State Conor Lenihan. He said the meeting proved frustrating, with ISPs resisting the notion of a graduated response to file-sharing.

Lenihan went on to say that the French model was not one that Ireland should examine, and that the UK’s Digital Economy Act now faces legal challenges. With that, he gave ISPs and the music industry an ultimatum.

“I am putting down a challenge again today to all those involved in this business,” he told the debate.

“The last thing I want to do is provide further legislation and regulation. If they [ISPs / industry] cannot come to a sensible arrangement however, I will have to legislate and examine the matter in a deeper, more far-seeing way. I have tried my best to bring people together. They should get together.”

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