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UPC scores landmark victory in illegal downloads case

One of the state's largest internet providers today scored a landmark victory against record labels over illegal music downloads.

Four powerful industry firms - Warner Music, Universal Music, Sony BMG and EMI Records - pushed for a "three strikes and you're out" rule to stop massive piracy by UPC customers.

But the High Court ruled that laws to identify and cut-off internet users illegally copying music files were not enforceable in Ireland.

The decision may have serious implications for an out-of-court agreement the record labels secured with Eircom last year.

It is understood Vodafone and Meteor are in talks over the threat of illegal downloads while O2 and 3 Ireland were also awaiting the outcome of the case.

Mr Justice Peter Charleton warned that the business of recording companies was being devastated by internet piracy.

"This not only undermines their business but ruins the ability of a generation of creative people in Ireland, and elsewhere, to establish a viable living. It is destructive of an important native industry," he said.

But the judge said laws were not in place in Ireland to enforce disconnections over illegal downloads despite the record companies' complaints being merited.

He also said this gap in legislation meant Ireland was not complying with European law.

He said a substantial portion of UPC's 150,000 customers were illegally downloading music.

UPC said it would work with all parties to identify and address main areas of concern over downloads.

"UPC has repeatedly stressed that it does not condone piracy and has always taken a strong stance against illegal activity on its network," the company said.

The internet firm said it would combat copyright infringements if necessary court orders were secured.

UPC added: "Our whole premise and defence focused on the mere conduit principal which provides that an internet service provider (ISP) cannot be held liable for content transmitted across its network and today's decision supports the principle that ISPs are not liable for the actions of internet subscribers."

The four music labels have seen sales fall by €64m from 2005 to 2009.

PA Media