Irish record firms take case over illegal downloads

 

AN EIRCOM official told colleagues they should think of music piracy as “sharing” and “helping the health and good living of rich cocaine-sniffing rock stars by leaving them with less free money to spend on sex and drugs”, the High Court heard yesterday.

Michael McDowell SC, for four record companies which claim Eircom should be compelled by the court to take measures to prevent the use of its networks for the illegal free downloading of music, said such music piracy was costing record companies here up to €14 million a year.

The Irish recorded music industry was in deep financial crisis and “almost on its knees” because of piracy but Eircom’s attitude was that was not its problem, counsel said.

He read an e-mail from Eircom’s head of internet protocol, Denis Curran, of January 2001, which suggested “the MP3 piracy issue” be on the agenda of the next management meeting.

“We need to reach a decision on how we are going to handle this,” the e-mail said. “PS: ‘piracy’ is a loaded term. Could we say ‘sharing’ – ‘piracy’ implies there’s something wrong with it.

“Think of it as helping the health and good living of rich cocaine-sniffing rock stars by leaving them with less free money to spend on sex and drugs.”

Mr McDowell said Eircom was also this week advertising its broadband packages on a website, Pirate Bay, which was being prosecuted in Sweden over alleged large-scale illegal music piracy.

Eircom was also offering family packages on a broadband promotional site which the company said would allow for the downloading of some 5,000 songs a month.

Eircom, he argued, could not be contemplating that young people would be paying 99 cent per song as provided for on legal music downloading sites.

The court should consider all these matters when considering Eircom’s defence that it was just a “mere conduit” for the downloading of music, he said.

Eircom had complained the record companies had singled it out for this action, but it had a 40 per cent share of the market for broadband internet services here and, if the companies won against it, they would move against other internet service providers.

Mr McDowell was opening the unprecedented action by the four record companies, heard by Mr Justice Peter Charleton in the Commercial Court and listed to last four weeks.

The proceedings have been brought by EMI Records (Ireland) Ltd, Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Ireland) Ltd, Universal Music (Ireland) Ltd and Warner Music (Ireland) Ltd.

They want court orders restraining Eircom from infringing copyright in the sound recordings owned by, or exclusively licensed to them, by making available (through Eircom’s internet service facilities) copies of those recordings to the public without the companies’ consent.

Eircom denies the claims and argues the record companies have established no cause of action against it.

Yesterday, Mr McDowell said the four companies between them are the exclusive licensees of up to 90 per cent of sound recorded music within the State. They estimated illegal downloading was costing the Irish music industry some €13.8 million annually.