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Ireland's largest ISP to start 'throttling' illegal downloaders

Irish companies’ agreement to voluntarily deny filesharers Internet service seen as potential model.

By John HearneContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / July 24, 2009


As record companies across the world continue to fight a largely losing battle to protect their copyrights, they are looking to a voluntary agreement with Eircom, Ireland's largest Internet service provider (ISP), as a possible new model.

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Next month, Eircom will be rolling out the trial phase of the strategy promised in the agreement, testing a new "three strikes and you're out" approach to first delay, and then deny, Internet service to people who use filesharing networks to illegally download music.

First-time offenders will get a warning on their bill; a second offense will see service "throttled," which means that download speeds will be reduced to a snail's pace, and a third offense will cause disconnection.

One Dublin based file-sharer, Stephen Whelan, isn’t working up a sweat over the Eircom deal: “There’s plenty of other operators out there."

The music industry has been casting about for a means to limit filesharing for years; until recently, it was relying on a model of fear and punishment. But its public image has taken a beating – particularly after the heavy publicity it received for the recent $2 million judgment in its favor against a Minnesota woman who downloaded 24 songs.

Approaches like the one in Ireland are emerging as a new favorite. Last year, legislation in a number of countries moved closer to establishing this sort of graduated response model.

But Ireland is first in reaching a voluntary agreement and not requiring that an ISP have a court order to disconnect. An Internet detection company, DetecNet, will ferret out the IP addresses of those it believes are illegally downloading.

This week, Karoo, the sole ISP in the northeastern British city of Hull, formally announced a similar three-strikes policy. Earlier this month, the music industry sued two other Irish ISPs, BT Communications Ireland and UPC Communications Ireland, demanding they adopt a similar approach to Eircom's. Those companies have so far remained defiant, insisting they're not going to act as policemen for their subscribers.

A UPC spokesman says Irish law doesn't require ISPs to control content. "The company intends to vigorously defend its position in Court,” he says.

Consumer anger

Digital rights and consumer groups have reacted angrily to the arrangement.

"It is incredible," says TJ McIntyre, a law lecturer at University College Dublin and chairman of Digital Ireland, an advocacy group. "In Ireland, the music industry and Eircom seem to think it appropriate to impose this privatized Internet death penalty, with no public debate, no parliamentary scrutiny, and no court involvement."