Irish Record Labels Win, Court Reinstates “3 Strikes” For File-Sharing

Universal, EMI, Sony and Warner have secured a court order against a decision that had brought the music labels' "3 strike" anti-filesharing mechanism to its knees. The four music giants will now reinstate the system at ISP Eircom and put renewed effort into spreading the practice to other ISPs in Ireland.

Following a 2009 agreement between the labels of the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) and Eircom, customers of the Irish ISP would find themselves warned should their file-sharing activities be tracked by rightsholders.

The so-called “graduated response” process would complete after a customer had received three warnings – at this point their Internet would be cut off. But by October 2010 things we starting to go wrong. Due to a mix up, Eircom sent out around 300 warning letters to completely innocent subscribers.

The error meant that Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) got involved in the process. The immediate outcome was bad for the labels. In December the DPC ordered “3 strikes” to be brought to a halt on privacy grounds.

This decision was later challenged by the ‘Big Four’ labels of IRMA – EMI Records, Sony Music, Universal and Warner – who said that the DPC ruling effectively disabled their ‘lawful’ agreement with Eircom.

Yesterday, the labels’ appeals bore fruit. At the Commercial Court, Mr Justice Peter Charleton ordered the Data Protection Commissioner’s decision to be quashed, a ruling which gives IRMA and Eircom the green light to continue with warnings and disconnections.

Justice Charleton said that the DPC notice was invalid due to the Commissioner failing to provide any detailed reasons why it had been issued. The Judge went on to question whether it had any basis in law.

Although privacy issues were the key motivator behind the DPC’s ruling, Justice Charleton said it was not clear how privacy might have been compromised by the detection and punishment of individuals who engage in unlawful Internet file-sharing.

The Irish Recorded Music Association said last night that it would now “press ahead” with its three strike regime. Expect other ISPs to come under pressure soon.

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