ISPs enforcing copyright law

It has recently been announced that Eircom, Ireland’s largest ISP, will be processing IP addresses from suspected copyright infringing accounts and using the talked about “3 strikes” rule that will see copyright offenders warned, disconnected for a week and potentially disconnected from the internet for a year if the account persists in illegal file sharing. This action is being taken by IRMA, the Irish Recorded Music Association. The suspect IP addresses will be provided by a third party that apparently specialises in discovering the IP addresses of high volume peer to peer seeders.

This is a controversial measure. It is my belief that it is a step in the wrong direction, or perhaps multiple wrong directions. I am not opposed to IRMA taking steps against copyright infringers. This is their right, and they are free to excersize it. However, a number of things about the details of the approach worry me.

In particular, why aren’t infringers being brought to court? It is not for Eircom to punish persistent offenders – unless they choose to take action on usage terms violations. It would appear that IRMA and Eircom have created some kind of deal which cuts out the Irish judicial system from punishing crimes.

Cutting off Internet access is quite disproportionate response, in many ways. It is similar to turning off the electricity that is used to power the infringement. You will have houses with no clear account holder, such as in shared rental accomodation. It doesn’t make sense to cut off everyone for the actions of individuals. Collective punishment is a poor mockery of justice. Another problem is wireless leechers. While the first strike should hopefully motivate users to protect unsecured networks, this may not be enough. Technically savvy malicious users can often break into encypted wireless networks. Indeed, Eircom had a well publicised vulnerability in their default setup, it was possible to deduce the network key from the SSID. In any case, it is not inconceivable that neighbours might know enough about each other to break weak passwords through social engineering. Finally, I have heard that some peer to peer networks have taken to including spurious IP addresses in the torrents, to obfuscate attempts to track down offenders by adding noise to the signal.

An IP address doesn’t map to an individual, which works for and against IRMA. The Irish Data Protection Comissioner challenged the court case that resulted in this action, and this challenge was quashed on the basis that an IP address isn’t personally identifiable information. It would appear to me then that some extra piece of evidence is therefore needed before action should be taken.

It would be interesting to know what, if any, financial agreement was reached between IRMA and Eircom. My own view is that the bill for any additional burden on the ISP should be entirely IRMA’s They may choose to recoup this by prosecuting the pirates if they wish. But through the courts, please.

A quote from IRMA’s director general:

The European Parliament has been talking about internet access as a basic human right. It absolutely is not.

I think this statement is misguided. My understanding is that the European Parliament are talking about making it a right. However, the right to a fair trial is certainly one, and this effort seems to attempt to undermine it somewhat. If they are confident of their case against Irish citizens, let them bring it to court. I intensely dislike this somewhat secretive agreement these two parties have reached.

Copyright is a complex issue at the moment. Personally, I believe that if someone creates something of value, either physical or not, they should have a right to protect their work. However, intellectual property laws are certainly artifical, and have no basis in natural law. As a society, we are agreeing to give the copyright holder a temporary monopoly over the work. If IRMA want this social contract to remain, they would do well to remember this. I would like to see some changes to current copyright law, particularly the length of time for which copyright is granted. If they push too hard, they might find quite an unequal force pushing back at them.

This is a pilot scheme. I am curious as to what the criteria for success are. Is it based purely on feedback from IRMA, or what can/will Eircom do if they start haemorrhaging customers? IRMA and similar bodies are not very popular at the moment, and Eircom are exposing themselves to significant negative press for this.

Ireland’s second largest ISP, “UPC”, are in a similar legal battle with IRMA. It will be interesting to see how that resolves, as would any challenge made by an accused infringer over this. I am not a lawyer, but I would be fascinated by any good links that would shed some more light on some of the issues I have talked about. I personally want it fought. Eircom have already blocked the pirate bay, which the other ISPs have refused to do. Are Eircom afraid of IRMA?

While I would, if anything, stand to benefit from a internet connection that wasn’t quite as congested with P2P downloads, I believe this is the wrong way to go about it. I am considering boycotting any IRMA related products, until they choose a more reasonable and fair approach. Maybe a small, unimportant individual action, but maybe if others choose to do the same.

BBC story on the announcment
RTE story on the announcement
Silicon Republic commentary


One Response to “ISPs enforcing copyright law”

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