Digital Top Stories

Three-strikes goes live in Ireland

By | Published on Tuesday 25 May 2010

Three-strikes is go, people. Well, it sort of is in Ireland, the first Western country to instigate the so called “graduated response” system to tackle online piracy.

Only “sort of” because Irish three-strikes has been achieved by an out-of-court settlement between the record industry and one internet service provider in particular (albeit a big one) rather than by an actual change in the law, so three-strikes will only apply to customers of Eircom. File-sharing Eircom customers will presumably quickly switch to an alternative net supplier.

Three-strikes, of course, is the system where labels can complain about alleged P2P-based piracy to an alleged file-sharer’s ISP, who are then obligated to send out warning letters. If warning letters are ignored the label can apply for an order to have that file-sharer’s net connection suspended or disconnected, which the ISP is then obligated to do. Exact process and penalties (and whether there are actually three stages to the system) varies from country to country.

Both Taiwan and South Korea have already introduced three-strikes, while systems are in development in the UK, France and New Zealand following changes in copyright laws in those three countries. Because the Irish system has not actually necessitated a change in the law it should, in theory, have become a reality much quicker, but the country’s Data Protection Commissioner Billy Hawke raised concerns that the system contravened data protection rules. Although the Dublin court dismissed those concerns last month, the fact they were raised delayed the launch of three-strikes somewhat.

According to the Irish Times, the Eircom system will be administered by a third party company called Dtecnet. Suspected file-sharers will be contacted by phone initially. If they continue to file-share they will have their net access suspended for a week. If they still continue to file-share they could lose their internet connection for a whole year. It is thought that initially Dtecnet will target about fifty IP addresses where infringement has been spotted a week.

Because the Irish three-strikes system is only being operated by Eircom, it isn’t clear if there is anything to stop a disconnected customer simply moving their ISP account to another company.

There also doesn’t seem to be any judicial stage prior to disconnection, ie disconnection orders don’t need to go before a judge for approval. In France this proved controversial – or, rather, unconstitutional, according to the country’s Constitutional Council – meaning that a judicial stage has been added to the proceedings. The French constitutional court ruled that internet access was now enough of a human right that only a judge should be able to deprive someone of it.

It is possible no judicial process is required in Ireland because, for now, a disconnected customer can go and buy their net access from another supplier. Though given there have been rumblings within the European Parliament to the effect that a judge should be involved in any net disconnections, it will be interesting to see if any disconnected Irish file-sharers try to challenge their net suspension in court.

Of course, Eircom aren’t stupid, and realise that being the only three-strikes operating ISP in Ireland is not going to be good for business. In their agreement with the ISP, the Irish Recorded Music Association agreed to pressure other Irish net firms to introduce a similar system, though it seems likely other ISPs will resist unless forced to do so by a court ruling or change in the country’s copyright laws.

Meanwhile, Eircom probably need to persuade IRMA’s major label members to licence a majorly attractive streaming or download service to ensure every music fan among their customer base doesn’t jump ship to a competitor.