Record Labels Ask Court to Force ISP to Disconnect Music Pirates

The world's largest record labels have gone to court to force Ireland's second largest Internet service provider to take action against file-sharers. Following a failed bid three-and-a-half years ago, Sony, Universal and Warner are back with fresh action against UPC, demanding that the ISP implements a three-strikes-and-you're-out approach to its pirating customers.

irelandFour years ago, the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) ended its legal battle with Eircom when the ISP agreed to implement a new anti-piracy policy against its own subscribers.

It was agreed that Eircom customers engaged in file-sharing would be tracked by IRMA and the ISP would take action based on the music group’s recommendations. Letter writing first, then disconnections for those subscribers who continued to share content without permission.

With Eircom publicly penalizing its customer base, IRMA set about forcing other ISPs to follow suit. Its next key target was UPC, Ireland’s second largest provider, but the process didn’t get far. In an October 2010 judgment the High Court said that disconnecting file-sharers in Ireland was not backed up by law.

Since then, however, the legal position in Ireland has changed, something which has given IRMA the enthusiasm to revisit their demands of four years ago. Sony, Universal and Warner (not EMI) are now back with fresh demands that UPC takes action against piracy.

According to the Irish Times, IRMA tracked UPC customers during November 2013 and subsequently reported 7,757 copyright infringements to the ISP. Based on this evidence of apparent large-scale infringement, the labels are demanding that UPC subject its pirating customers to a graduated response scheme.

However, UPC is still refusing to move, stating that any response of that type would raise a “serious question of freedom of expression and public policy and demands fair and impartial procedures in the appropriate balancing of rights” and would need to be backed up by legislation.

Faced with a defiant ISP, IRMA has now initiated fresh legal action with the aim of forcing UPC into compliance.

The case, set to go before the Commercial Court, could turn on whether legislation introduced in Ireland during 2012 will allow a judgment in IRMA’s favor. Already the courts have shown a willingness to clamp down on illegal file-sharing, ordering ISP blockades (1,2) of sites including The Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents.

Presuming IRMA are successful, the big question is whether the strikes model will have the required effect of curbing piracy in any meaningful way. While recent research suggests that the approach does not work, the labels see things differently.

According to IRMA chairman Willie Kavanagh the Eircom three-strikes scheme has been “remarkably effective”, since only 0.2% of warned users have proceeded to the disconnection stage. Whether those users actually stopped downloading, moved to unmonitored sharing mechanisms, or simply hid their downloading activities, will probably remained unanswered.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for April.

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