Firms seek ruling on privacy of web users


A NUMBER of major record companies have asked the High Court to rule on data protection issues arising from agreements to disclose the internet protocol (IP) addresses of persons involved in music piracy via the internet.

The companies allege illegal downloading of music is costing the entertainment industry losses of up to €14 million a year, and that any invasion of the privacy of persons involved is outweighed by evidence of their wrongdoing through copyright infringement.

The application by EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner arises from a settlement last year of the companies’ action against Eircom over illegal downloading. Under that settlement, Eircom agreed to implement several measures aimed at stopping illegal downloading, including disclosing the uploaders’ and downloaders’ identities through their IP addresses.

When both parties contacted the Data Protection Commissioner about the disclosure of IP addresses, the commissioner expressed the view that the Data Protection Act was an obstacle to implementation of the measures, as these involved the release of sensitive personal information.

In those circumstances, the matter came back to the High Court, and yesterday Mr Justice Peter Charleton, who heard the original case in which the settlement was agreed, was asked to make declarations to clarify the data protection issues. The judge said he hoped to give his decision next week.

Michael McDowell, for the record companies, argued that court decisions in other cases indicated any invasion of privacy or confidentiality was outweighed by evidence of wrongdoing, but his side was anxious not to have to bring thousands of individual lawsuits, which could take years.

Divulging of personal information to identify downloaders was only concerned with civil, not criminal wrongdoing, he submitted.