irma-eircom-censoredI was brought up to be proud of my heritage. Having lived and worked outside Ireland I was never ashamed of my Irish identity.

However that has changed.

When private organisations like IRMA and Eircom skip the judicial process and enter into agreements that curtail free speech it makes me ashamed to carry an Irish passport.

Once a free and, supposedly, democratic nation stands idly by and allows private commercial interests to take precedence over due process then what confidence can we as private citizens have in the State?

How long before other commercial entities start bullying ISPs into blocking content and cutting off users?

Some might call this simply an “enforcement” exercise, whereas I’d see it as a pretty clear case of censorship.

Don’t get me wrong. I neither condone nor support illegal activities, but, to quote Paul Durrant of the Irish ISP Association:

You don’t go after the people who built the roads if bank robbers use them for a getaway, do you?

Why should private companies like Eircom, or even ourselves, be expected to act as “policemen” for IP holders?

Earlier this year we received a “cease and desist” from IRMA in relation to some audio files that were on our network.
That the website operator had no right to put the mp3s online does not concern us.
We, as the hosting provider, had no knowledge of the files’ existence nor could we be reasonably expected to know about them.
Yet, instead of asking our customer to remove the files and putting us on notice of the alleged breach, IRMA resorted to threatening us with legal action in relation to an activity that we knew nothing about.
When our legal counsel tried to engage with IRMA in order to reach some kind of “sane” and “workable” agreement on this and future instances our advances were flatly rejected.

Why do I raise this?

As has been shown on multiple instances in the US and elsewhere, the methodology used by IRMA, RIAA and other entities is far from perfect.

As a reasonable sized hosting provider we host several thousand servers for clients of all shapes and sizes. In many cases a physical machine could be hosting hundreds if not thousands of separate clients and, as you’d expect, we do not have direct access to all of the machines. If someone either knowingly or accidentally were to upload content to a public site (or server) we would be more than happy to put them on notice of this.
However it is not viable at any level to demand that we cut off access to files immediately, as the unintended consequences and impact of such an action could have a detrimental effect on completely innocent bystanders. It would also open us as a provider open to liability were we to knowingly disrupt services to 3rd parties based solely on a demand from a private commercial entity ie. without any court orders or other legal backup.

So if IRMA gets its way with one thing you can expect it to become emboldened and start placing heavier demands before ISPs and hosting providers.

Also, in recent weeks there has been uproar due to IMRO demanding that bloggers be expected to pay a licensing fee for music blogs.

Doesn’t the music industry not see the irony in all of this?

Bloggers who take the time to write about new music, bands and albums contribute to sales. Yet they are being penalised.

But the bigger picture is a much much scarier one indeed.

The Irish government and its various agencies have been working hard to build up Ireland as a “smart economy”. Key  to this strategy is IT and the Internet. As a country we have done very well in attracting “heavy hitters” to our shores.

However would we still be able to do this if we were labelled or classified in the same way as oppressive regimes?

Net neutrality is not something that a country can simply brush aside.

While protecting intellectual property rights is important, you have to ask how mcuh creativity would exist if people were not able to take inspiration from others.

Take a look at the backlash to the Digital Economy Bill in the UK which outlines just some of the issues with this sort of approach.

If the Irish government want to encourage a strong digital industry in Ireland they need to act. Failure to do so will only lead to companies such as ourselves being forced to move our businesses offshore.

Minor update 2102Eircom’s FAQ can be found here