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Irish ISPs in record company crosshairs

RTE reports that 4 record companies, EMI, Sony BMG, Universal Music and Warner Music, have brought a High Court action to compel Eircom — Ireland’s largest ISP — to prevent its networks being used for the illegal downloading of music:

Willie Kavanagh, Managing Director of EMI Ireland and chairman of IRMA, said because of illegal downloading and other factors, the Irish music industry was experiencing a “dramatic and accelerating decline” in income. He said sales in the Irish market dropped 30% in the six years up to 2007.

EMI and the other companies are challenging Eircom’s refusal to use filtering technology or other measures to voluntarily block or filter illegally downloaded material. Last October Eircom told the companies it was not in a position to use the filtering software.

(I wonder if those dropping sales in the Irish market comprise only CDs sold by Irish shops? 2001 to 2007 is also the time period when physical sales have given way to online shopping on a gigantic scale, especially for music.)

The Irish Times coverage includes another interesting factoid, which appears in a lot of press regarding this case:

Latest figures available, for 2006, indicate that 20 billion music files were illegally downloaded worldwide that year. The music industry estimates that for every single legal download, there are 20 illegal ones.

A little research reveals that that figure comes from the IFPI Digital Music Report 2008. I’d have a totally different take on it, however. In my opinion, the figure is probably correct, but not for the reasons the IFPI want them to be. There are a number of factors:

There’s more commentary on the 20-to-1 figure here.

The IFPI Digital Music Report 2008 also notes:

“2007 was the year ISP responsibility started to become an accepted principle. 2008 must be the year it becomes reality”

Governments are starting to accept that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should take a far bigger role in protecting music on the internet, but urgent action is needed to translate this into reality, a new report from the international music industry says today.

ISP cooperation, via systematic disconnection of infringers and the use of filtering technologies, is the most effective way copyright theft can be controlled. Independent estimates say up to 80 per cent of ISP traffic comprises distribution of copyright-infringing files.

The IFPI Digital Music Report 2008 points to French President Sarkozy’s November 2007 plan for ISP cooperation in fighting piracy as a groundbreaking example internationally. Momentum is also gathering in the UK, Sweden and Belgium. The report calls for legislative action by the European Union and other governments where existing discussions between the music industry and record companies fail to progress.

So it seems Ireland is the vanguard of an international effort by IFPI members to force ISPs to install filtering, worldwide. It seems the same happened in Belgium last year — and I reckon there’ll be similar cases elsewhere soon.

Either way, I doubt this will be good for Irish internet users.

(PS: while I’m talking about buying MP3s online — a quick plug for 7digital. Last time I used them, I had a pretty crappy experience, but the situation is a lot better nowadays. They now have a great website that works perfectly in Firefox on Linux; they sell brand new releases like the Hercules and Love Affair album as 320kbps DRM-free MP3s; they support PayPal payments; and downloads are fast and simple — right click, “Save As”. hooray!)

Some other blog coverage: Lex Ferenda with some details about the legal situation, and Jim Carroll.

Update: EMI Ireland seem to be singing from a different hymn-sheet than their head office… interesting.

Update 2: I’ve taken a look at the Copysense filtering technology, and how it can be evaded.