Threat to Eircom 'three strikes' plan


Eircom's plan to ban internet subscribers who persistently download music illegally has been dealt a blow after the European Parliament today approved a new telecoms reform package that offers greater protection for consumers.

The reform package, which was first proposed by the European Commission in November 2007, includes a provision to restrict internet service providers (ISPs) from disconnecting filesharers.

It also includes a number of other benefits for consumers such as the right to better information about services they subscribe to and improved data protection for individuals.

However, easily the most controversial aspect of the package is the move to protect file-sharers from being denied internet access if they download music illegally.

The revised EU telecoms framework directive was adopted at the third and final reading by 510 votes to 40, with 24 abstentions.

Eircom agreed to introduce a “three strikes and you’re out” rule in January as a result of an out-of-court settlement with EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner Music.

The move follows the introduction of similar legislation in France. A ‘three strikes’ law is also under consideration in Britain under the controversial Digital Economy Bill.

Under the agreement reached in Ireland, investigators working on behalf of the music labels are to pass on the details of Eircom users they detect sharing copyrighted material. Eircom is then expected to contact the customer and ask them to desist. However, if the subscriber continues to share files, they will be issued with a formal warning and on the third count, have their account terminated so that they can no longer access the internet. No Eircom customers have been disconnected to date.

As part of that deal, the record labels agreed to seek a similar system to be put in place by all other internet service providers (ISPs), so that Eircom would not be at a competitive disadvantage.

Legal proceedings were launched by the big four music labels in association with industry body, Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma), in June against BT Ireland . However, this was discontinued following the transfer of BT's consumer base to Vodafone. A similar action against UPC Ireland is on-going.

Some experts have suggested that the final version of the amendment which covers the "three strikes" rule in the EU’s telecom reform package has been watered down so much during debates that it no longer protects filesharers.

A previous version of the amendment said that any application for cutting off internet access must go through a judge. However, the reworked version states that a user's internet access may only be restricted “if appropriate, proportionate and necessary, " and only after "a prior, fair and impartial procedure" which gives users the opportunity to state their case and respects the principles of presumption of innocence and the right to privacy.

According to TJ McIntyre, a lecturer in law at UCD and the chairman of Digital Rights Ireland, the final version of the amendment makes it unclear just how much protection internet users now have if moves are made to disconnect them.

Mr McIntyre told The Irish Timesthat the amendment refers to Member States rather than private entities and added that it was only likely to become clear exactly what the legal standpoint is if a case ends up in court.