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Ireland has become the first nation to introduce a controversial three strikes (well actually four strikes) policy in order to tackle illegal file sharing. The move will see Eircom, the country’s largest ISP, target alleged offenders based on IP address information supplied by IRMA (Irish Recorded Music Association). What makes this particularly concerning is that this ‘policy’ has been introduced following court action against Eircom which saw IRMA win their claim that “Eircom was not doing enough to protect the intellectual property of its [IRMA’s] members.”

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Eircom has now been forced to implement the controversial four strikes policy which will consist of a letter to the alleged culprit followed by a phone call from a dedicated team at Eircom (no prizes for guessing who will pick up the tab for all of this). If the activity persists the customer will be disconnected from the Internet for a week and, if that still does not deter them, they will be disconnected for a whole year. The policy will be reviewed after 3 months when even tougher rules could be implemented including permanent disconnection.

As we have previously stated, whilst we agree illegal file sharing is wrong we feel this harsh penalty does not reflect the seriousness of the [alleged] crime. At a time when governments are encouraging adoption of the Internet; governments, businesses and individuals are making more and more information and services available online; and carriers are working to roll out faster and faster connectivity, a user can now be disconnected for a whole year or potentially disconnected permanently for illegally sharing music or video – something they could do without the aid of the Internet. Most concerning of all is the manner in which this has been introduced, i.e. through bully boy tactics from the music industry that continuously pleads poverty yet is not willing to modernise its own distribution models to embrace the opportunities the Internet could provide.

Surely a disconnected guilty user will simply sign up for a new connection elsewhere and then, if really determined to infringe on copyright, commit the offence all over again. How will that help alleviate the problem? Is the IRMA going to maintain a ‘most wanted’ style list that’s shared between all Irish ISPs? Whilst the two companies ensure us that they are targeting file sharers and not straightforward downloaders, do they really think it will be that easy to track down the hardcore pirates using IP address information which can easily be spoofed and hijacked? I doubt it. The policy seems quite obviously flawed.

IRMA reportedly has plans to take other Irish ISPs to court in the near future with the country’s second largest ISP, UPC, summoned to court on 17th June.  We expect it will not be happy until it has hauled all the major Irish ISPs over the coals and has them all implementing similar disconnection policies.

This news follows our own Government’s confirmation that the DEA (Digital Economy Act) will not be repealed and comes as UK ISPs anxiously await Ofcom’s Code of Practice for tackling illegal file sharing in line with the DEA, which is due at the end of the month.

But is it that one sided?

On the other hand Eircom admits that it has plans to launch its own online music service later this year, so is this actually just a method of ensuring a market for its own product? It also stated that the new team dedicated to making follow up calls regarding this issue will also advise of legal alternatives. I’m sure the team won’t forget to mention Eircom’s own service amongst those options.

Also, no details have been disclosed regarding payment of the blocked connections. Will Eircom continue to receive payment for the connection after it has been blocked? If so, this could prove to be a very lucrative deal for Eircom. It will be paid monthly for a connection that cannot be used and therefore consumes no bandwidth, presumably whilst the customer is tied into a contract. We will be interested to see how that pans out.

Regardless of the underlying reasons, the conclusion remains the same – disconnection from the Internet in response to [alleged] illegal file sharing is not the best answer. The punishment significantly outweighs the seriousness of the crime and is indiscriminate. For example, such action could see entire families disconnected based on the activity of one rebellious teenager; or the end of free Wi-Fi in cafes and restaurants because the owners fear being held liable for the activities of their customers.

With France expected to implement a similar policy soon, we suspect that we will be discussing this issue for the foreseeable future. Hopefully one day these governments will see the error of their ways and realise they shouldn’t believe everything the music industry tells them. For example, only last month this troubled industry reported revenue growth of digital services (which includes streaming and legal downloads) of 47.8% in 2009 and stated that digital revenue now accounts for 98% of track units sold and 20.3% of overall annual income. But what do we know, as a connectivity and bandwidth provider we only enable it to happen!

Have your say!

What do you think about Eircom’s new ‘four strikes’ policy? Do you think it is fair and just to disconnect alleged offenders in order to protect the rights of the artists? Or do you think that disconnection is too harsh a penalty? Let us know your thoughts by adding a comment below.

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