U2 manager criticises UPC defence


U2 manager Paul McGuinness today rejected UPC's defence in relation to the issue of illegal downloading as "disingenuous".

Mr McGuinness, one of the music industry's most vocal critics of illegal downloading, said internet service providers (ISPs) such as UPC were being "utterly disingenuous" in stating that they were "mere conduits" and could not be responsible for the behaviour of their customers.

The record industry lost a High Court case earlier this week in which it sought an injunction against UPC to force it to deal with illegal filesharers.

In his judgment, Mr Justice Peter Charleton was critical of UPC. He said he did not accept that the company was unaware its service was being used for illegal downloading or that it had not considered that it could make a profit from it.

The judge concluded that he wanted to grant an injunction, but could not do so because the law in Ireland had not been brought up to date in line with the EU directive on copyright.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr McGuinness said the defence of "mere conduit" was "not an excuse when there are questions of national security, child pornography or terrorism".

He said: "There are lots of exceptions to that (the principle of mere conduit). I think that's bullshit frankly. They could do it if they wished."

Following the judgment UPC said that its "whole premise and defence" focused on the "mere conduit" principal that ISPs could not be held liable for content transmitted across its networks. It said the High Court judgment "supports the principal that ISPs are not liable for the actions of internet subscribers".

Mr McGuinness described Mr Justice Charleton as an "excellent judge" who wanted to act against ISPs and illegal downloaders but was constrained from doing so by the law.

"It is a very good judgment. I'm disappointed because I didn't know that the legislation was not in line with what he needed to what he clearly wished to do," he added.

"He (the judge) very clearly pointed the finger at the Government to get their act together and do what the EU wants it to do. I presume that will have the correct effect and the Government will do something about it, but things move slowly in our system.

"I think the Government must act. [Minister for Communications] Eamon Ryan has a personal responsibility. It is so easy to turn these cases into cliché because it really is not Bono looking for more money. It is about fundamental rights. We will be blamed by history if we allow them to lose their force."

Mr McGuinness said the Government should introduce emergency powers to give the courts the power to grant an injunction against UPC. The U2 manager said a "three strikes and you are out" policy against illegal downloaders would only be the first step.

"I don't think it is going to solve the problem. It is a necessary start. What will really solve the problem in the long-term is if there is a bit of willingness and cooperation so that the ISPs should actually monitor the flow of content through their pipes and put it on their customers' bill whether it emanates from a legal or illegal source."

He warned that the judgment would give the impression that Ireland is soft on copyright enforcement. "That is the last thing we need at this time. This will have a bad effect. It is not just music and movies. There are all sorts of other areas where protection is really important, such as sport," he said.

"Manchester United are very popular in the Far East, but the price at which they can sell their TV rights is going down all the time because of the internet."

Mr McGuinness said the record industry was the "canary in the coalmine" as far as illegal downloading is concerned, but many other creative industries were threatened.

"Not to sound over-dramatic, but frankly it has got to do with the future of civilisation and a culture within our society. If we allow it to become accepted that writers and artists and musicians are not entitled to get paid for their work and they are, in some kind of daft way, pursuing hobbies where we will be in the future? We will get news from Google search and the telcos (telecommunications companies) and the ISPs will dominate the horrible new world".

He acknowledged that U2 had made lot of money from selling records and the issue was not about the band.

"The cliché that live music and merchandising have taken over as a source of income for artists is simply not true," he said. "In U2's case, of course it is true, we're big boys. We are comparatively unaffected by this because the majority of our business is live. It is sometime annoys me that when I make this case everybody says it is just McGuinness looking for more money for U2. I'm entitled to make this case independent of U2 because I believe in it."