Net campaign urges action over move to block websites


AN ONLINE campaign to protest against moves to block access to certain websites by Irish internet service providers (ISPs) gets under way tomorrow.

Blackout Ireland is encouraging Irish internet users to contact their service providers, TDs and Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan to voice their opposition to the planned restrictions which are being spearheaded by the Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma).

Internet users are also being asked to black out their profile pictures on social networking sites such as Twitter, Bebo, Facebook and MySpace for a week to show support for the campaign.

Irma, which represents EMI, Sony, Warners and Universal, has begun contacting ISPs asking them to sign up to an agreement similar to the one made with Eircom as part of an out of court settlement in a recent copyright infringement case. Under the agreement, record companies will give Eircom the IP addresses of those they say are illegally uploading or downloading copyrighted works. Eircom has agreed to warn users to cease copyright infringement, and will ultimately disconnect subscribers who ignore the warnings under a “three strikes and you’re out” policy.

Eircom also agreed not to oppose moves by the industry group to block access to websites such as The Pirate Bay, which is the subject of court action in Sweden. The Swedish website provides links to music, films and other content that can be downloaded by third parties.

Irma is trying to get other ISPs to agree to similar measures. Irma’s move has caused controversy among Ireland’s online community, with claims that it is “a serious breach of civil liberties” and amounts to censorship.

Blackout Ireland says it is a group of Irish internet users “concerned by the prospect of Ireland having a censored internet”.

“We do not think private companies should be allowed dictate what websites the Irish people are allowed to visit,” its website says.

The campaign is also gaining publicity through Twitter. No sites have yet been blocked.

It is claimed that record companies in Ireland are losing up to €14 million a year as a result of music piracy.

The campaign is inspired by a similar one in New Zealand, where users protested that a proposed copyright law would see those accused of copyright infringement disconnected from their service provider. As part of the protest, some websites shut down for half a day, replacing their sites with a “blackout” screen explaining the protest.

The law, which was due to come into force on February 28th, has now been delayed for a month as a compromise is sought. Eircom is the only ISP in Europe so far to agree to the “three strikes” rule demanded by the record labels.

An Irma spokesman was not available for comment. For more information, see