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Government set to legislate against illegal downloading next month

The government will issue orders next year which may allow publishers to go to court and stop ISPs from allowing file-sharing.

THE GOVERNMENT is set to issue legislation next month aimed at curbing the illegal downloading of films and music online.

Junior minister Seán Sherlock has said he expects to issue secondary legislation by mid-January which is set to require ISPs to cut internet services for users who are ‘committing digital copyright theft’.

The move follows a consultation earlier this year in which Sherlock published a draft statutory instrument which would allow copyright holders to seek court orders blocking access to certain websites.

In response to parliamentary questioning, Sherlock told two backbench Fine Gael TDs that the public consultation had attracted over 50 submissions, which were sent to the office of the Attorney General for consideration.

Sherlock added that there had been “interaction between rights holders, the internet service providers (ISPs) and the end users, of whom there are millions”.

The legislation, the minister said, would have to ensure that a balance was struck between the rights of all parties.

The statutory instrument has been prepared in response to a court decision that while the rights of one music publisher EMI were breached by internet providers allowing its copyrighted works to be shared for free, the law did not provide any way for this to be remedied.

As a result the High Court ruled it could not grant an injunction blocking traffic to certain websites which facilitated any illegal filesharing. This, Justice Peter Charleston said at the time, meant Ireland was in contravention of European directives.

The outcome of that case meant that music publishers and copyright holders would potentially sue the State for its failure to introduce legislation giving effect to European directives.

Last weekend’s Sunday Times reported that the Data Protection Commissioner had ruled a similar system – where Eircom disconnected users who were found to have breached the ‘three strikes’ principle for illegal downloading – to be an inappropriate use of customers’ data.

Last month, meanwhile, the European Court of Justice ruled that it was illegal for countries to force ISPs to block illegal filesharing on a blanket basis at their own expense.

Because the legislation being prepared by Sherlock will take the form of a Statutory Instrument, it is not required to be put through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

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