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Sherlock appeals to opponents of copyright law to "call off the dogs"

The junior innovation minister says a consultation on online copyright could lead to the introduction of new government-backed laws.

Junior minister Seán Sherlock (right) says a new consultation could render the statutory instrument, signed yesterday by Richard Bruton (left), redundant.
Junior minister Seán Sherlock (right) says a new consultation could render the statutory instrument, signed yesterday by Richard Bruton (left), redundant.
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE JUNIOR MINISTER responsible for the introduction of a new law dubbed the ‘Irish SOPA’ has said a public consultation launched yesterday could lead to new laws which would supersede the current law – but only if “everybody calls off the dogs”.

Speaking exclusively to TheJournal.ie yesterday, Labour minister Seán Sherlock said the public consultation which was launched by his Department yesterday – alongside the introduction of a statutory instrument allowing copyright holders to seek injunctions blocking access to copyright-infringing material – paved the way for a potentially radical overhaul of copyright laws in Ireland.

The statutory instrument – officially named the European Union (Copyright and Related Rights) Regulations 2012 – had prompted a wave of public outcry, including a number of protests and an online petition which attracted over 80,000 signatures, but was nonetheless signed into Irish law yesterday.

“It’s vitally important that those people who were exercised by the statutory instrument will now engage in the very nature of copyright, [and] will engage on the issues within the consultation paper,” Sherlock said, describing the latter as a “very comprehensive and extensive document”.

If everybody calls off the dogs, as it were – if everybody engages constructively on it – then I think we can reach compromises around the challenges between ISPs, the content holders, the copyright holders.

Sherlock said the outcome of the consultation, if agreed with by the government, could also mean the potential introduction of further statutory instruments on online copyright law, or alternatively conclude that the current legal framework is sufficient.

‘Not SOPA’

Sherlock moved to once again dispel fears that the legislation could lead to the blocking of major websites like YouTube or Facebook, which could potentially be subject to injunctions if copyrighted material was posted to them by other parties.

“The very people who are lobbying against the SI [statutory instrument] called it ‘SOPA’ – so language is all important,” the Cork East TD for Labour said.

It was not SOPA. And already on Twitter people are using the SOPAIreland hashtag, which is a complete nonsense. It has nothing to do with SOPA.

“So the concerns were based on an interpretation of this SI as a mechanism for driving SOPA-type legislation, but that was not the case. So the arguments were flawed in that sense.”

When presented with an example where a judge could issue an injunction to block a site like YouTube, Sherlock said the example “presumes that a judge will make a flawed judgement”.

“We feel strongly that the SABAM v Scarlet decision – the ECJ decisions – now provide a guidance for any judge in Irish law,” the minister said, referring to the ruling where the ECJ ruled it illegal for courts to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to filter content in order to enforce copyright protection.

Consultation

Although the statutory instrument was formally approved by the Cabinet three weeks ago, Sherlock said it was not signed into law until yesterday because the government wanted the consultation paper on copyright review to be published alongside it.

Dr Eoin O’Dell, who co-authored the consultation paper being used as a basis for the copyright review, wrote in a blog post yesterday that the review should be seen as being “separate and distinct” from the statutory instrument.

Sherlock said he hoped that “the online community, through the Irish Internet Association (IIA), will engage in a moderated debate or consultation, online” on the review paper.

IIA chief executive Joan Mulvihill told TheJournal.ie she had approached Sherlock offering to facilitate IIA members in offering feedback to the consultation paper, and that it would collate the thoughts submitted to it for presentation to the minister.

“We are an industry representative body, and our job is to represent the views of our members as a priority,” Mulvihill said. ”But that’s not to say I’m deaf to the thoughts of others.”

The exact mechanics of how the IIA’s consultation would work, she added, had not yet been agreed.

Ireland’s ‘SOPA’ legislation: The big arguments for and against

As it happened: The Dáil debate on the ‘Irish SOPA’

Explainer: How can ministers sign laws without Dáil approval?

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Gavan Reilly

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