Digital Top Stories

Irish labels allowed to take three-strikes block to judicial review, as government moves on web blocking

By | Published on Thursday 1 March 2012


A judge in Ireland has given the four majors permission to launch judicial review proceedings against the country’s Data Protection Commissioner over his decision late last year to tell internet service provider Eircom to stop operating its three-strike system.

As much previously reported, Ireland’s biggest ISP, Eircom, voluntarily introduced a so called graduated response system to combat illegal file-sharing as part of a legal settlement with the country’s major record companies. For their part, the labels committed to try to persuade Eircom’s rivals to likewise agree to send out warning letters to suspected file-sharers, with the threat of reduced net services if said users continued to access unlicensed content sources, but Ireland’s other net firms have so far resisted all calls to do such a thing. It seems likely Eircom’s competitors would only comply on three-strikes if forced to do so by new laws, such as those introduced in France and the UK.

Nevertheless, Eircom introduced its three-strikes system. But then Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner started raising concerns about the legalities of the operation, and – after evidence surfaced last year that some warning letters had been sent to the wrong people – ordered it be halted on data protection law grounds.

Both the majors and Eircom subsequently raised formal objections to that DPC ruling, and this week an Irish court gave the former the all clear to take the matter to judicial review. The record companies want a fast-tracked court hearing on the DPC’s three-strikes-blocking ruling, and a judge will now consider whether that is appropriate on 12 Mar.

Meanwhile, concurrent to all this, efforts have been ongoing, of course, on the part of the big rights owners to force an actual change to Irish copyright law to better counter online piracy. As previously reported, there has generally been more sympathy in Irish political circles for a web-blocking system that targets the operators of copyright infringing websites, rather than a three-strikes system that targets individual file-sharers. Though, of course, following all the protests against the web-block enabling SOPA proposals in the US, web-blocking too has become a contentious topic, and protests have duly followed in Ireland about web-block plans there.

Nevertheless, the country’s Minister For Research & Innovation Sean Sherlock yesterday signed a statutory instrument that introduces new provisions in the web-block domain into Irish copyright law. Quite how those will work isn’t yet clear, and Sherlock insists the measures – in development for much of last year – have been altered to deal with protestors’ concerns. Given that the Irish record industry recently began legal proceedings against the Irish government claiming it was failing to fulfil European obligations to combat piracy, presumably Sherlock is right to say the final version of the statutory instrument he has just signed is nowhere near as wide-reaching as originally planned.

The minister also hopes to placate web block opponents by launching a new consultation on copyright issues. Though, for the time being at least, it seems that neither side in this debate are happy with the Irish government’s latest moves.