Record Labels Try to Force ISP to Disconnect Pirates

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A long running legal battle between the world's largest record labels and an Irish-based ISP has resumed today. Sony, Universal and Warner want UPC to warn and disconnect subscribers found sharing infringing content online but the ISP doesn't want to foot the bill.

Half a decade ago the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) ended its legal action against local ISP Eircom when the ISP agreed to implement a new anti-piracy policy against its own subscribers.

The agreement saw IRMA-affiliated labels including Sony, Universal and Warner tracking Eircom subscribers online. Eircom then forwarded warning notices to customers found to be sharing content without permission and agreed to disconnect those who were caught three times.

In a follow-up move IRMA tried to force another ISP, UPC, to implement the same measures. UPC fought back and a 2010 High Court ruling went in the ISP’s favor.

However, a 2012 change in the law emboldened IRMA to have a second bite and now the music group’s case is being heard by the Commercial Court. As before, IRMA wants an injunction issued against UPC forcing it to implement a “three strikes” or similar regime against its customers.

According to the Irish Times, Michael McDowell SC representing the labels said that UPC could come up with its own graduated response, whether it be “two strikes” or “five strikes”.

For its part, UPC appears to be more concerned about the cost of operating such a system rather than the actual introduction of one. UPC has provided estimates for doing so but the labels view the amounts involved as excessive.

Surprisingly, Cian Ferriter SC, for UPC, said the ISP has “no difficulty in handing over information” (on pirates) for the labels to pursue but the company has issues with setting up an “entire system” to deal with the problem.

The stance of UPC seems markedly different from its position during February 2014. At the time the company said that subjecting customers to a graduated response scheme would raise a “serious question of freedom of expression and public policy” and would “demand fair and impartial procedures in the appropriate balancing of rights.”

In the event, however, Mr McDowell said that UPC’s offer was not only a new but one that raises concern over privacy and data protection issues.

IRMA chairman Willie Kavanagh previously said that the Eircom three-strikes scheme had been “remarkably effective,” since only 0.2% of warned users have proceeded to the disconnection stage. Perhaps even more remarkable is that even after four years of the program, Eircom hadn’t disconnected a single customer.

“We are continuing to implement the graduated response process,” a spokesman said last March. “We haven’t, as yet, disconnected anyone.”

IRMA is contractually bound by its agreement with Eircom to pursue UPC and/or other ISPs to implement a graduated response scheme, so expect this one to run either until the bitter end – or when UPC cave in. For now the case is scheduled to run for eight days.


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