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Dublin: 23 °C Wednesday 23 July, 2014

In full: Seán Sherlock’s full briefing note on copyright protection

This is the text of a full briefing note distributed by Seán Sherlock to members of the Oireachtas this evening.

Image: James Horan/Photocall ireland

THE FOLLOWING is the full text of a briefing note prepared by innovation minister Seán Sherlock this evening, and circulated to all members of the Dáil and the Oireachtas.

TheJournal.ie understands that the note has been circulated for the information of members this evening, in a bid to minimise the need for disruption to the Dáil schedule tomorrow.

It is also understood that the matter may be raised during the Dáil’s topical issues session tomorrow, and that Sherlock is willing to speak on the topic if TDs wish.

We all subscribe to the freedoms, the opportunities and the access to information that the Internet provides us with. Ireland is home to some of the world’s most innovative internet companies and we are determined to grow our reputation as a location where smart people and these smart companies can continue to innovate in this fast moving arena.

The last thing innovators need is a culture where the outputs of their creative endeavours have to be locked away or kept secret for the fear of theft. Ireland is very proud of the fact that we have a modern suite of intellectual property laws that by their very nature balance a range of competing interests and rights in a manner that is seen, right across the globe, as reasonable and proportionate.

Going right back to 22 December, 2002, the date by which every EU Member State had to have implemented Directive 2001/29/EC, every EU country has had to “ensure that rightholders are in a position to apply for an injunction against intermediaries whose services are used by third parties to infringe a copyright or related right”. Having that provision enshrined in EU law and the laws of Member States for a decade has not restricted the development of the Internet or innovative internet companies. On the contrary, the Internet has flourished.

It may be useful to explain the background against which the requirement for the amendment to the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 has arisen. In the EMI & others versus UPC High Court judgment of 11 October 2010, Mr Justice Charleton decided that he was constrained by the wording of the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 and thus could not grant an injunction to prevent infringement of copyright against an information service provider (ISP) in the circumstances of “mere conduit” (transient communications). In doing so, he stated that Ireland had not fully transposed the relevant EU Directive(s). As you will appreciate, non-compliance with EU law is a very serious matter.

The “Mere conduit” principle provides that if an ISP does not initiate a transmission, or modify the material contained in a transmission and does not select the receiver of the transmission, it is granted a “safe harbour” against liability, by virtue of the e-Commerce Directive [2000/31/EC]. However, according to the same directive, this freedom from liability does not affect the power of the courts to require service providers to terminate or prevent copyright infringements.

As far as can be ascertained from the judgment (the State was not a party to the case), the type of injunction sought was to require UPC to prevent infringement of the record companies’ sound recording copyright, through its internet “peer-to-peer” services, possibly involving a “three strikes and you’re out” scenario. This is where the ISP sends three warnings of increasing severity and if the infringement continues, discontinues access to the Internet. It is sometimes referred to as a “graduated response”. I understand that blocking access to infringing online sites may also have been sought.

Two EU directives (the Copyright Directive 2001 and the Enforcement Directive 2004) require that the holders of copyright – authors, music composers, lyricists, record producers etc. – are in a position to apply for an injunction against intermediaries whose services are used by a third party to infringe a copyright or related right.

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation had considered that injunctions were available under Section 40 (4) of the Copyright Act and the inherent power of the courts to grant injunctions, which are equitable and discretionary remedies, granted according to settled principles, developed by the courts. However, this was not Mr Justice Charleton’s view. The record companies did not appeal the High Court decision and, consequently, the State has not had an opportunity to put forward its views on the legal principles involved nor on the construal of the relevant sub-sections of the Act, which we feel were not fully explored in the judgment.

The Attorney General’s Office was then asked (both by this Department and Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources) for its advice as to the implications of the High Court judgement. The prudent course, he advised, would be to introduce a Regulation to ensure compliance. After consultations with the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, this Department launched a public consultation on the text of the proposed Statutory Instrument. The consultation attracted over 50 submissions from interested parties. For the avoidance of doubt, the Government has decided to introduce a Statutory Instrument to restate the position that was considered to exist prior to this judgment.

Concerns have been expressed that the proposed Statutory Instrument mirrors the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the United States. These concerns are not based on fact. The purpose of the Statutory Instrument is simply to provide explicitly that injunctions may be sought, as obligated by the two EU Directives cited above. It should also be noted that such injunctions are available in all other Member States of the European Union by virtue of the two Directives already referred to. In granting such injunctions the courts must take account of Court of Justice of the European Union judgements. These require that a fair balance be struck between the various fundamental rights protected by the Community legal order and the principle of proportionality. That would include, inter alia, the protection of the fundamental rights of individuals who are affected by such measures, the freedom to conduct a business enjoyed by operators such as Internet Service Providers, the protection of private data and right of freedom of expression and information.

In proposing to amend the legislation, I am particularly conscious of the importance of online content and digital businesses in the Irish context and, accordingly, am simply seeking to ensure Ireland’s continued compliance with its obligations under the relevant EU Directives following the decision of the High Court in the aforementioned UPC case.

I trust that this information will clarify the issue.

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