Kenny eased Facebook’s fears over EU copyright laws

Then-taoiseach told Sheryl Sandberg Ireland would take ‘minimalist’ approach to rules

Enda Kenny speaking at the official opening of Facebook offices in Dublin in 2014. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Enda Kenny speaking at the official opening of Facebook offices in Dublin in 2014. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Enda Kenny assured Facebook’s second in command, Sheryl Sandberg, in 2012 that the government would comply with EU copyright rules in “a minimalist manner”.

In previously undisclosed correspondence, the then taoiseach wrote to Ms Sandberg after one of their regular meetings at Davos where the Facebook executive raised concerns over the 2012 European copyright law that threatened to hold internet giants liable for copyright breaches of material posted on their platforms.

In a letter dated February 29th, 2012, Mr Kenny told the Silicon Valley executive he fully acknowledged the concerns she expressed about the introduction of the EU copyright regulation.

On the same day he sent the letter, his government introduced a statutory instrument to ensure Ireland complied with EU law, exposing internet companies and social networks to potential legal actions.

“While we are obliged to introduce this legislative measure to ensure that Ireland is compliant with our obligations under EU law, we have decided to do so in a minimalist manner,” Mr Kenny wrote.

The move, he said, had to be understood in the context of his government’s review of copyright law to identify parts of the legislation “that might be deemed to create barriers to innovation.”

The review would provide a basis “to legislate fully and productively in the interests of innovation”, he said.

Written when the economy was still struggling to recover from the crash and his government was keen to attract foreign investment to create jobs, Mr Kenny’s letter stressed to Ms Sandberg his determination to ensure Ireland “will be a premier location where innovation can flourish.”

Facebook employed 300 people in Dublin at the time. Its Irish workforce has since grown to 4,000. Last year the company said that a lease on the former AIB site in Ballsbridge could add 5,000 more jobs.

Regular contact

Mr Kenny’s letter, released by the Department of the Taoiseach under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that his close relations with Facebook and long-standing eagerness to assuage Ms Sandberg’s concerns date back some time. The two remained in regular contact during his time in office.

Labour’s Sean Sherlock, then minister of state for innovation, who signed the instrument, stressed at the time that the High Court would have to ensure any remedy would uphold certain principles, including a requirement that an internet company could not be forced to monitor information on its network.

The government was obliged to introduce the instrument complying with EU law arising from a High Court ruling in 2010 when music company EMI was denied an injunction against internet service provider UPC in its attempt to block access to websites allowing the illegal downloading of music.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s UK and Ireland policy director, responded to Mr Kenny’s letter four days later with an email saying Ms Sandberg had asked him to respond.

He told the Taoiseach that Facebook was “pleased” to see the government’s “messaging” around the statutory instrument was on “fostering new business models, innovation and growth in Ireland rather than on enforcement via court injunctions requiring web-blocking.”

“We trust that your government will keep a close watch, nonetheless, on how the new provisions around injunctions are utilised by copyright owners and interpreted by the courts, and that you’ll be ready to step in if there are unintended consequences,” Mr Milner wrote.

He said that, as he explained to Mr Sherlock at a meeting almost a month earlier, the California-based company “sincerely hope that the worst fears about this measure are not realised”.

He signed off his email sent to Mr Kenny via one of the taoiseach’s aides: “Sheryl has asked me to let you know that she looks forward to seeing you later in the year when you visit our HQ.”