Major music labels in court move to force internet providers to act on downloads


THE BIG four music labels have launched legal proceedings against Ireland’s second-largest telco, BT Ireland, and largest cable operator UPC Ireland, to force them to act against illegal music downloads by their subscribers.

The move follows an out-of-court settlement in January between Eircom and the labels – EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner Music – under which the telco agreed to introduce a “three strikes and you’re out” rule for persistent downloaders.

As part of the agreement, the record labels agreed that they would seek a similar system to be put in place by all other internet service providers (ISPs), so that Eircom would not be at a competitive disadvantage.

A spokesman for music industry body Irma, which has co-ordinated the legal actions, confirmed that the case was over illegal file-sharing and followed from the Eircom case. He declined to comment further citing the legal proceedings.

Proceedings were issued in the High Court and Tuesday by “EMI Records (Ireland) Limited and others” against BT Communications Ireland, and in a separate case against UPC Communications Ireland. However, legal papers have not been served on either ISP.

It is understood that Irma’s investigation of file-sharing networks shows that after Eircom, they are most commonly used by UPC and BT customers.

A spokeswoman for UPC said the firm “has made its position clear from the outset – it will not agree to a request that goes beyond what is currently provided under existing legislation”.

She added: “There is no basis under Irish law requiring ISPs to control, access or block the internet content its users download. In addition, the rights-holders’ proposal gives rise to serious concerns for data privacy and consumer contract law.”

UPC proposed to Irma that a “stakeholder forum” be formed between ISPs, the Data Protection Commission, the National Consumer Agency and relevant government departments to find an alternative solution but Irma rejected this.

“UPC intends to vigorously defend its position in court.”

A BT spokeswoman said: “We understand that proceedings have been issued but BT has not yet been served with papers.  Therefore we are not in a position to comment on the grounds of the complaint set out in those proceedings.”

Under the agreement reached with Eircom, investigators working on behalf of the labels pass on the details of Eircom users they detect sharing copyrighted material. Eircom will then contact the customer and ask them to desist.

If the same customer is detected sharing copyrighted music a second time, they are issued with a formal warning. The third time they are detected, their account is terminated and they are cut off from the internet.

Irma and Eircom are having ongoing discussions about exactly how the scheme will be implemented on a technical level. As a result, no Eircom customers have been disconnected to date.

In January a number of European jurisdictions seemed to be moving towards a “three strikes” approach to combat illegal downloading of music which dwarfs the value of the legal market.

Earlier this year, however, the European Parliament rejected a far-reaching telecoms reform package because of concerns over provisions in it to cut off internet users who infringe copyright.

Members of the parliament felt internet access was a right of citizens.

Earlier this month, France’s constitutional court rejected a French law which implemented the “three strikes” rule.

The music industry is also known to be unhappy with the Digital Britain proposals announced by communications minister Lord Carter. It says that ISPs should engage in dialogue with customers but, if file-sharing of copyrighted material is not reduced by 70 per cent within a year, regulator Ofcom will be given powers to act.