Specialists to police music downloads

Fri, Feb 6, 2009, 00:00

COPYRIGHT DEAL:LAST WEEK’S landmark agreement between Eircom and the big four record labels has far reaching implications on how people will listen to and download music on the internet.

What was agreed amounts to “three strikes and you are out”, as account holders found to be sharing copyrighted material three times will have their broadband connection cut off.

The record labels will employ a third-party specialist company that will monitor peer-to-peer networks which are the primary way to share music illegally. The most popular peer-to-peer services are those which use the Bit Torrent protocol including Limewire, Shareaza and Vuze (formerly Azureus).

The software enables users to find music, software, video and other content that is stored on other users PCs. The Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma), the lobby group which represents EMI, Sony, Warners and Universal will provide Eircom with the internet protocol (IP) address of people sharing their artists copyrighted work.

The agreement does not extend to other ways of sharing music such as MP3 blogs and file hosting services such as RapidShare.

This is an approach that the music industry has been lobbying for around the world. Eircom is the first internet service provider in Europe to have signed up to such a scheme. It seemed Britain was going to go down this route but, last week, intellectual property minister David Lammy ruled it out. “We can’t have a system where we’re talking about arresting teenagers in their bedrooms,” he told the London Times.

Under the agreement, Irma will seek to put the same arrangement in place with other internet service providers (ISPs), to prevent people cut off by Eircom simply moving to another provider. Other ISPs this week confirmed that they have not yet received any communication from Irma.

Eircom and Irma are locked in negotiation over the finer points of how the scheme will operate, but it is understood it will be some months before the scheme is up and running.

A spokesman for Eircom said the company will engage in “dialogue and education” with customers rather than simply ordering them to cease and desist the activity. He also dismissed the possibility that customers who are the victim of “wi-fi hijacking”, where someone else uses their wireless network to access the internet, could lose their account.

“Because this is a three strike process, customers will have every opportunity to clarify the situation if they think they have been unjustly confused,” he said.

Digital Rights Ireland, the lobby group for online consumer rights, is not taking any comfort from such reassurances. TK McIntyre, the group’s chairman and a UCD law lecturer, says Eircom has appointed itself “judge, jury and executioner to pass ‘internet death’ on people”.

Groups as diverse as consumer electronics manufacturers and free speech advocates have been calling for the music industry to be more flexible in its approach as well as supporting “next generation business models”, as Eircom’s head of content services Mark Taylor puts it. He believes, ultimately, the labels will have to provide “all you can eat” services for a monthly fee.

7Digital saw its sales of Warner Music’s catalogue double when it was made available without digital rights management restrictions. McIntyre puts it more bluntly: “The record labels have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.”

We highlight below some of the ever expanding services that enable you to find, discover and buy music online without risking your broadband connection.