European Commission: No 3 Strikes Without Judicial Oversight

The European Commission has issued a warning to the Spanish government that any plan to disconnect file-sharers from the Internet without involving a judge would create conflict with the EU. This statement could also throw the three-strikes plans of the UK government and the Irish ISP Eircom into serious doubt.

In file-sharing terms, Spain currently has among the most relaxed laws of leading European countries. The country is believed to have some of the highest rates of online sharing of music and movies and currently it is perfectly legal, providing no money is made directly from infringement, to run BitTorrent and eDonkey sites.

As the copyright industries ramp up their lobbying, the government is finding it more and more difficult to maintain their current position, and is currently examining new ways to deal with illicit file-sharing.

At the opening day of a conference bringing together leaders of the telecommunications industry, European Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Vivane Reding, said that if the Spanish government implements measures to disconnect copyright infringers from the Internet without the oversight of a judge, it risks coming into conflict with the EU.

“Spanish measures that allow for the disruption of Internet access without a fair hearing before a judge, are certain to clash with the European Union,” she told the Telecommunications Market Commission (CMT) conference in Barcelona yesterday.

Criticizing France’s Hadopi legislation, Reding stressed that repressing people would not solve the problems of Internet piracy, noting that disconnections may even run counter to the “rights and freedoms which have become part of Europe’s values since the French Revolution.”

Furthermore, the “fundamental freedoms” of EU citizens which Reding insists forbids countries from disconnecting alleged file-sharers without a procedure involving a judge, also applies to Internet service providers.

This is of particular interest to customers of Ireland’s largest ISP, Eircom. Earlier this year IRMA – which controls 90% of Ireland’s recorded music and represents the likes of EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner – reached a private agreement with the ISP to implement a 3 strikes deal for alleged pirates, with IRMA discontinuing legal action against it in return.

The arrangement is an entirely private one, with no judicial oversight, which will likely bring it into conflict with the EU.

IRMA also took legal action against BT, Ireland’s largest ISP, and the country’s largest cable operator, UPC Ireland, to force them to follow suit.

However, last week IRMA discontinued its lawsuit against BT Ireland, as the ISP has already transferred its Internet customers to Vodafone. It is unclear if IRMA will now go after Vodafone, but the music group says it will continue to pursue UPC.

In addition, it will be interesting to see how the statement by the European Commission affects the Digital Economy Bill that was presented in the UK last week. The proposed legislation will also call for a disconnection of repeated copyright infringers, a measure that’s proving unpopular among the public. Thousands of people have already petitioned against the new bill.

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