Over 21,000 sign 'piracy law' petition


An online petition against the Government’s plan to allow music publishers and other parties take internet service providers to court in a bid to prevent their customers accessing ‘pirate’ material has received thousands of signatures.

The stopsopaireland.com site had attracted almost 21,891 signatures by 9.15pm tonight, having gone live at about 9.30pm last night. Over 2,000 signatures were added in one hour this afternoon, according to the site's administrators. They had expected about 5,000 signatures by lunchtime, and no more than 10,000 in total.

Minister of State for Enterprise Seán Sherlock intends to publish an order this month which will effectively amend the State’s copyright legislation.

He argues that a High Court ruling in 2010 means the Government must take such a step in order to close a loophole in the law.

In that case, music publisher EMI sought an injunction against internet provider UPC, ordering it to block access to websites that allowed illegal downloading.

While the court found that EMI’s rights were breached, Mr Justice Peter Charleton pointed out that he could not grant the injunction as the Copyright Act did not provide for this remedy.

The judge said such a provision was needed to bring the Republic’s legislation into line with EU law.

TJ McIntyre, a UCD law lecturer, solicitor and chairman of Digital Rights Ireland, along with solicitor Simon McGarr, and Michele Neylon, managing director of internet hosting firm Blacknight, launched the petition yesterday to oppose the Minister’s plan.

Mr McIntyre has argued the Minister’s order will give the Irish courts an “open-ended” power to grant orders against ISPs and, potentially, other facilities such as hosting providers, social networks and video-hosting websites.

He has also noted the measure will be achieved by ministerial order and without any scrutiny by, or debate in, the Oireachtas.

On whether the High Court ruling in the EMI case obliged the Government to bring in the blocking legislation, Mr McIntyre noted the European Court of Justice has since given an important decision restricting the use of such blocking.

“That decision found that filtering would be impermissible if it undermined freedom of expression and blocked lawful communications - something that is inevitable if this proposal is adopted,” Mr McIntyre argued in a blog post.

He noted the European Commission had not taken any action against Ireland for failure to introduce blocking.

Mr Sherlock said last night there was “no intention by the government to introduce legislation to block access to the Internet or sites. I have state that unambiguously.”

Engaging on Twitter, the Minister said “no sane person” would seek to censor the internet and that his proposal had been “confused” with the US anti-piracy legislation.

He insisted there had been a High Court judgment on the matter and that the Government “must reflect the words of that judgement so as to remove doubt”.

Speaking today on the Drivetime programme on RTÉ, Mr Sherlock said the Government was merely seeking to restate what existed already in Irish law, which was the right of a copyright holder to seek an injunction. He said it was not 'Sopa-type' legislation.

“We have no intention of blocking sites. We have no intention of introducing legislation that will limit internet freedom," Mr Sherlock said.

He said he had consulted with both sides of the debate and had received over 50 submissions following a consulation process. A wording for the new instrument had gone to Cabinet.

"It will go to Cabinet and the Government will decide as to when it will be rolled out and how it will be rolled out," Mr Sherlock said.

He said the Government was trying to ensure that the rights of internet users was balanced by the rights of the copyright holders.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) in the US was postponed indefinitely last weekend following a storm of protest online, with sites such as Wikipedia going ‘dark’ to mark their opposition to it.

Music industry bodies such as EMI argue their profits and sales are being eroded by piracy and illegal downloading.

In his ruling in the case against UPC in October 2010, Mr Justice Peter Charleton said internet piracy was “devastating” the recording companies’ business in Ireland.

Not only did it “undermine their business” but it was also “ruining the ability of creative people in Ireland to earn a living”. The retail sector was also affected by this “wholesale theft”. Solutions are available to the deal with the problem of internet piracy but the 2000 Copyright and Related Rights Act lacked the proper provision for blocking, diverting and interrupting of illegal downloads from the internet, he found.

A spokeswoman for European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier, said: "The Commission services are in contact with the Irish authorities about their imminent plans to react to the Irish High Court ruling in the EMI case, and in that context we look forward to an appropriate response by Ireland to the court ruling in the very near future."