Internet 'thieves' face having service cut off after key ruling
MUSIC lovers who illegally download their favourite song may soon find their internet service cut off following a landmark High Court ruling yesterday.
Legal sources last night predicted the judgment by Mr Justice Peter Charleton may compel providers to cut off services to those who fail to heed warnings to desist from what the judge described as "theft".
The judge ruled allowing record companies to pass the IP addresses -- unique web identification -- of suspected illegal downloaders to internet services providers was not a breach of the data protection law.
The companies had no interest in personally identifying the people infringing copyright law but trying to uphold the law, the judge said.
Yesterday's judgement arose from a settlement last year of proceedings by four major record companies -- EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner -- against Eircom over the use by others of its services for illegal downloading.
Eircom had agreed to help stop illegal downloading, by disclosing the uploaders and downloaders' identities through their IP addresses, and by ultimately cutting them off if illegal downloading persisted.
However, issues over data protection were raised by the Data Protection Commissioner and the case came back before the High Court to clarify these.
Mr Justice Charleton yesterday ruled the measures were lawful and compatible with the data protection legislation.
There was nothing in the criminal or civil law which legalises that which is otherwise illegal, simply because the transaction takes place over the internet, he said.
The internet "is only a means of communication, it has not rewritten the legal rules of each nation through which it passes."
Since the early days of the internet, copyright material was placed on the world wide web by those with no entitlement to share it and downloaded by others who would normally have expected to pay for it, he said.
Younger people were now so much in the habit of downloading copyright material they appeared to believe they were entitled to have for free what is not theirs.
While the removal of internet access over illegal downloading was a serious sanction, there was "no freedom to break the law".
There was "a fundamental right" to copyright in Irish law existing since the time of Saint Colmcille who was often quoted for his aphorism "to each cow its calf and to every book its copy", he said.
"The right to be identified with and to reasonably exploit one's own original creative endeavour I regard as a human right."
The companies and Eircom propose a "three strikes and you're out" protocol and Eircom will give notice to downloaders that their activity is illegal and should cease.
Paul Durant, general manager of the Internet Services Providers Association of Ireland, said his members had long argued that the music companies should go after those illegally uploading material for others to download, rather than the service providers.
"We have never condoned the theft of copyright material by internet and have always complied with court orders. We feel they (the music companies) are pursuing the wrong people," Mr Durant said.
Those who illegally make music available online are the people the music companies should go after, he said. "You don't go after the people who built the roads if bank robbers use them for a getaway, do you," he added.
The Data Protection Commissioner said the office would study the judgement.
"The Commissioner is required under the provisions of the Data Protection Acts to investigate any complaint he receives regarding bona fide breaches of the Acts and therefore if he receives a valid complaint once the agreement becomes operational he will be obliged to investigate it," the statement said.