FOUR record companies have taken legal action against Eircom to try to force the company to stop internet users illegally downloading music.
The case is the first in this country aimed at internet service providers, rather than individual illegal downloaders
The latest figures available indicate that 20 billion music files were illegally downloaded worldwide in 2006.
The music industry estimates that for every single legal download, there are 20 illegal ones.
As a result of this and other factors, the Irish music industry is experiencing "a dramatic and accelerating decline'' in income, said Willie Kavanagh, managing director of EMI records (Ireland) and chairman of the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA), in a sworn statement (affidavit) to the High Court yesterday.
The Irish market for sound recordings suffered a decline in total sales, from €146m in 2001 to €102m, last year -- a fall of 30pc, he said.
He attributes a substantial portion of that decline to illegal peer-to-peer downloading services and the increasing availability of broadband internet access here.
The proceedings, in the commercial division of the High Court, are being brought by EMI Records (Ireland) Ltd, Sony BMG Music Entertainment (Ireland) Ltd, Universal Music (Ireland) Ltd and Warner Music (Ireland) Ltd against Eircom Ltd.
They are challenging Eircom's refusal to use filtering technology or other appropriate measures to voluntary block, or filter, material from its network which is being used to download music in violation of the companies' copyright and/or licensing rights.
The companies say certain specialised software, such as that provided by the US-based Audible Magic Corporation, can filter peer-to-peer traffic and block specified recordings from being shared.
Eircom told the companies last October that it was not in a position to run the Audible Magic software on its servers.
Eircom's solicitors also stated that Eircom was not on notice of specific illegal activity which infringed the rights of the companies and had no legal obligation to monitor network traffic.
Mr Kavanagh said that, "with the greatest of respect" to Eircom, it was "well aware" its facilities were being used to violate the property rights of record companies "on a grand scale".
Mr Justice Peter Kelly yesterday admitted the proceedings into the list of the Commercial Court.
In the action, the companies want 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.
In his affidavit, Mr Kavanagh said legal actions brought against persons with the highest numbers of illegal files on their computers had proven very costly and time consuming.
The record companies believed selective legal action was not sufficient to safeguard their property rights.