Music labels lose downloads case

UPC has won a legal action taken in the High Court by record labels over illegal downloading and file-sharing.

UPC has won a legal action taken in the High Court by record labels over illegal downloading and file-sharing.

Warner Music, Universal Music, Sony BMG and EMI Records had been attempting to force internet service providers to adopt a “three strikes” rule to halt copyright infringement and piracy by internet users.

The High Court ruled that laws to identify and cut off internet users illegally copying music files were not enforceable in Ireland.

In a judgment published today, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said recording companies were being harmed by internet piracy.


“This not only undermines their business but ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living. It is destructive of an important native industry,” he said.

However, the judge said laws were not in place in Ireland to enforce disconnections over illegal downloads despite the record companies’ complaints being merited. He also said this gap in legislation meant Ireland was not complying with European law.

In a statement, UPC said it would work to identify and address the main areas of concern in the file-sharing debate.

"UPC has repeatedly stressed that it does not condone piracy and has always taken a strong stance against illegal activity on its network. It takes all steps required by the law to combat specific infringements which are brought to its attention and will continue to co-operate with rights holders where they have obtained the necessary court orders for alleged copyright infringements," it said.

"Our whole premise and defence focused on the mere conduit principal which provides that an internet service provider cannot be held liable for content transmitted across its network and today’s decision supports the principal that ISPs are not liable for the actions of internet subscribers."

ISPs have been awaiting the outcome of the case against UPC. However, it is not yet known what effect the UPC judgment will have on Eircom's agreement with record labels, which it settled on out of court last year.

A spokesman for Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan said today's ruling raises a number of important issues and he will meet representatives from the music industry and internet providers to "formulate an agreed approach".

Irish Recorded Music Association director-general Dick Doyle said his office would pressure the Government to reform the law in favour of record labels.

"The High Court has acknowledged that Irish artists, composers and recording companies are sustaining huge losses and internet providers are profiting from the wholesale theft of music," Mr Doyle said. "The judge made it very clear that an injunction would be morally justified but that the Irish legislature had failed in its obligation to confer on the courts the right to grant such injunctions, unlike other EU states.

"We will now look to the Irish Government to fully vindicate the constitutional rights of copyright holders and we reserve the right to seek compensation for the past and continuing losses from the State."

Meanwhile, mobile operator 3 Ireland, which along with rival O2 is facing a separate lawsuit over illegal downloads, said this afternoon it did not condone copyright infringement and is willing to work with the music industry to resolve the problem.

In a statement the firm said it welcomed the proposal from Mr Ryan earlier this month for roundtable talks with record labels and " is keen to find a practical and appropriate solution to address the issue."

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist