Irish ISP launches pilot program aimed at file sharers

Eircom is implementing the plan after settling with the music industry over copyright conerns

Irish ISP Eircom launched a three-month pilot program on Monday that will see those who repeatedly share files under copyright cut off from their Internet service.

Eircom is implementing the plan as the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) puts further pressure on other Irish ISPs to do the same by taking them to court.

Eircom was sued by the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA) -- a trade association composed of such record labels as EMI, Sony, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group -- which sought to force the ISP to install traffic-monitoring equipment that would have examined the content of its subscribers in an attempt to clamp down on illegal file sharing.

Eircom, which has about 750,000 subscribers, resisted but reached an out-of-court settlement in January 2009 with IRMA. Eircom agreed to put in place a so-called three-strikes plan, where those illegal sharing files under copyright are warned and eventually have their access suspended or cut off.

The plan came under a court challenge over data protection issues. But in March, Ireland's High Court ruled that IP (Internet Protocol) addresses were not personal information that fell under data protection regulations, clearing the way for the pilot program.

Under the new scheme, Eircom will receive lists of the IP addresses of suspected file sharers from Dtecnet, a company that specializes in tracking files illegally distributed online, according to an Eircom spokesman. IRMA pays Dtecnet for their services.

Eircom said it will rely on Dtecnet and not use monitoring equipment itself on its network to enforce the program or monitor its customers' Internet browsing. The ISP also said it will not provide personal details on customers to third parties including record companies.

Although IP addresses can be used to identify a subscriber's computer, they do not identify the actual person who uses the machine. During the trial period, Eircom will receive about 50 IP addresses per week of subscribers suspected of sharing files under copyright. Eircom said it will call subscribers and send letters explaining illegal file sharing in order to educate them, the spokesman said.

Eircom says it ships its wireless routers with a default security setting that would prevent access to the network from someone other than the subscriber. Some people accused of file sharing have argued they had no security on their Wi-Fi router, which allowed others to abuse the connection and illegally download content under copyright.

Eircom will send subscribers sterner letters the second time around, and their Internet access will be suspended for a week on the third accusation. Internet access will be suspended for a year on the fourth notification, the spokesman said. About 80 percent of illegal file sharers stop their activity after being warned a second time, according to IRMA.

Some Irish ISPs are expected to implement similar programs, but others are resisting, said Dick Doyle, IRMA's director general.

Ireland's second-largest ISP, UPC, has "refused to play," Doyle said. IRMA is suing, and a High Court date is scheduled for June 17, Doyle said. Two other ISPs will be given notice of IRMA's intention to sue on Wednesday, he said.

IRMA was one of the first music industry trade groups to stop suing individuals for illegal file sharing because the process proved expensive and generated bad press, Doyle said. IRMA opted to work with service providers.

Eircom's inter-industry compromise comes as other countries have either implemented or are considering legislation to halt illegal file sharing.

The U.K. Parliament passed in April the Digital Economy Act, which compels ISPs to send out warning letters to subscribers suspected of breaching copyright and then eventually cut off access. Critics such as the Open Rights Group contend the act is flawed and was passed hastily before the national election and should be repealed.

France's National Assembly approved in September 2009 a law that criminalizes file sharing, with infringers facing a suspension of Internet access, a fine or prison.

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