THE ATTORNEY GENERAL was never shown a copy of an alternative proposal for changing copyright law in Ireland, Sean Sherlock has said.
One of the two TDs who drafted the alternative guidelines has said she was disappointed that the AG had not seen the proposal for a statutory instrument, which had the support of a number of internet website owners and was significantly different to the one signed by the government earlier this year.
At a discussion on Ireland’s copyright laws in Dublin this afternoon, junior minister Sean Sherlock also said that he is willing to change the legislation on copyright depending on the outcome of consultation with the public and representative bodies.
Sherlock told the audience at the Science Gallery that he believes some of the criticism around copyright law is based on general anti-government sentiment, saying:
It’s clear that people are pissed off with us as a government.
Sherlock had originally pulled out of the Digital Rights Forum discussion saying he would not share a stage with Simon McGarr, who was involved in setting up the StopSOPAIreland petition. He agreed to attend the debate last night.
“I’m man enough when I make a bad decision to review it and reverse it if necessary,” Sherlock told the audience.
In an at times heated debate, Sherlock called for a consensus-driven debate on copyright. He encouraged internet users with opinions on the matter to fill in the online questionnaire launched last month as part of his department’s review of Irish copyright law.
Sherlock said that the questionnaire being conducted by the independent Copyright Review Committee will form the basis for how the internet is legislated for in Ireland in the future. He said that issues such as a possibly copyright council and rules around fair usage will be discussed.
“There’s a little bit of a philosophical debate as well because we have to ask ourselves what kind of internet do we want, or how we can remove any barriers to innovation,” the junior minister told the audience.
(Simon McGarr speaking at the Digital Rights Forum discussion in Dublin’s Science Gallery today. Photo: Christine Bohan)
“This doesn’t work… and it won’t work”
Tom Murphy, co-founder of boards.ie, criticised the junior minister and the government for the recent government instrument on copyright, saying it was vague in the extreme and extremely problematic for many websites in Ireland.
Murphy said the current situation was comparable to a bank prosecuting the roads authority because its roads were used by a getaway driver after a robbery. He told the audience:
This doesn’t work, It hasn’t worked anywhere else, and it won’t work here.
He described the current situation facing many websites as ‘Schrodinger’s Law’, saying that the law around copyright on websites doesn’t seem to exist until it has been observed by a judge.
On the issue of illegal downloading, Murphy told the audience that internet service providers were unlikely to cut off customers’ internet access for online piracy.
He pointed out that Eircom had sent warning letters to 29,000 customers in an effort to curb illegal downloading. . One hundred customers had had their internet access cut off for one week, and twelve were at the stage where they could be cut off permanently.
Solicitor Simon McGarr, who organised the petition against the government copyright legislation, said that members of the public need to be involved in the ongoing consultation and urged people to make a submission.
Paul Durrant of the ISPAI, which represents internet service providers in Ireland, said that the recent statutory instrument signed by the government needs to be clarified instead of being decided on a case by case basis at the courts.
Tone of the debate
Sean Sherlock also criticised some of the tone of the debate around copyright, telling some critics to “park the egos” and get involved in a consensus-driven debate:
I think the debate so far perhaps has been one where we’ve all had the swords drawn and maybe now we need to put the swords back into the scabbards and see how we can move on in this debate.