21st Century Wire
Oct 12, 2010
The ongoing global battle between internet users and mega-media corporations saw a rare victory for the free internet community in Ireland this week. Leading Irish internet service provider UPC won a Dublin High Court legal battle against the major record companies over online music file sharing and ISP customer privacy.
The world’s corporate music industry has been keen to institute draconian measures against ISP users in Ireland, which would be administered by traffic-monitoring equipment that would scan, flag and record all content that is shared and downloaded by all ISP customer account holders in that country.
Under the local guise of the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA), music moguls Warner Music, Universal Music, Sony, BMG and EMI Records have sought for the last decade to control the flow of digital content through their global cartel. Ideally, this cartel would control the flow and sharing of all music intellectual property, policing individual users and their ISP’s with a seemingly bottomless multi-million dollar legal trough. Using Ireland as a test ground for their new policy, the cartel has sought to enforce a self-styled “three strikes system” against ISP’s and their customers.
Slashdot reports: “The High Court in Dublin ruled today that there was no precedent in Irish law to force ISPs to identify and disconnect people accused of illegally downloading copyrighted files. The court case was spurred by objections to the recording industry’s three-strikes system from Irish internet provider UPC. Earlier this year, Eircom, one of Ireland’s other large ISPs, gave in and implemented the system, as we discussed previously. This resulted in many of the more ‘technical’ users leaving that ISP in droves. Nice to see an ISP willing to take a stand.”
This key legal decision will certainly be good news for dozens of smaller ISPs in Ireland who have been awaiting the news from the UPC case in order to measure their own ability to fight the powerful international music recording cartel.
Collusion lawsuit possible
Vodaphone, O2 and 3 Network each have lucrative, existing deals signed with the international music cartel regarding licensed music and video content for their mobile network phone users. As the mobile phone network providers continue to make serious inroads into the home ISP market, the potential for corporate collusion will certainly grow. Evidence suggests that a collusion may exist between large corporate ISPs and the music cartel in Ireland, as Vodafone Ireland and Meteor (Ireland’s third largest mobile service provider) have been engaged in private meetings with the record companies in order to lobby for their new “three strikes for fileswappers”. Should the music label cartel become successful in getting Vodafone on board, their new, albeit arguably illegal mandate, would cover nearly two-thirds of all Irish broadband households. The cartel initially sued Irish leader Eircom in order to stop its ISP customers from file-sharing by cutting off their internet broadband accounts- a move which forced Eircom into the music cartel camp, as well as sending a stark warning to other service providers who are not willing to capitulate to a blanket control of internet users throughout the country.
‘Big Brother’ fears are very real
One of the objectives of music cartel pressure on service providers is to force the ISPs (at their own expense) to install a new generation sophisticated traffic-monitoring equipment that will examine the content of its subscribers. This mechanism was initially challenged in the Irish courts by the Data Protection Commissioner prompting a key legal debate over whether or not IP addresses constitute ‘personal information’. The initial court ruling interpretation is that a person’s IP address does not constitute personal data. It remains to be seen exactly how large companies like Eircom will legally be able to differentiate between a variety downloaded and shared user content without infringing on privacy laws.
Clearly this UPC legal victory will embolden the collective of smaller ISPs in Ireland who are preparing to lock horns with the cartel, but the fight is one which will rage on. On the front end of this global battle is the issue of intellectual property and rightful music royalties. But the back end- historically the most important end of any technological policy debate, is ultimately about personal privacy and civil liberties.
The looming Big Brother State will have a relatively easy entry point into your home should the music cartel succeed in this running legal war, another reason why this issue should be on the radar of users who place a value on personal data and retaining the privacy of their user content.