Irish ISP to cut off illegal downloaders at behest of record companies - Eircom

Ireland's largest broadband provider Eircom has announced that it will be cutting the broadband connections of illegal downloaders from today.

It has been a source of speculation for some time now, but Eircom has finally made an agreement with the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA), which includes EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner, to implement a graduated system that will warn users who have been found to have illegally downloaded music from the internet.

TechEye spoke to Paul Bradley, Head of Communications at Eircom, who provided us with details of the new scheme.

Bradley told us that this is a pilot scheme that will be implemented to see what arises as a result of these new measures. After three months the scheme will be reviewed and changes will be made if deemed necessary.

We were informed that the system will work in four stages.

The first stage will involve a phone call and letter from Eircom informing the user that they have been found to have infringed on copyright and must cease doing so. Eircom says this initial contact will be friendly and aimed at informing people and working with them to bring about a positive resolution.

If the user continues to illegally download music the second stage will kick in, which involves a second warning letter, this time much more stern. It will warn the user that if they continue to breach music copyright then Eircom will be forced to disconnect their internet for a period of seven days.

If this warning is disregarded the third stage involves a third letter, which actually informs the user that their broadband has been cut off for seven days.

If that has not gotten through to the person and they repeat the crime when their internet comes back up then the fourth stage involves disconnecting their internet for a whole year.

We asked Bradley how Eircom identifies users who are illegally downloading, but he said that Eircom does not. He told us that the record industry users a third party group called Detectnet which identifies copyright infringers. Detectnet then contacts the IRMA and provides them with the relevant IP addresses, which the IRMA then forwards to Eircom to enact its tiered response.

Eircom will not monitor users' activities and will not install any equipment or software on its network to identify illegal downloaders. It will also not provide any personal details of its users to the IRMA or Detectnet, which will prevent the latter from bringing any direct action against the users.

When asked what prompted this approach Bradley told us that Eircom was sued back in 2008 by the IRMA, but settled out of court with an agreement to bring in a graduated warning system that enables Eircom to work with its customers who are illegally downloading as opposed to simply punishing them from the outset.

Eircom plans to process 50 IP addresses a week, which is a relatively small portion of its over 750,000 broadband customers. The IRMA indicated it could easily give Eircom thousands of IP addresses a week, but that it was restricted by what the ISP could actually process.

We asked what happens when a user feels they are wrongly accused of illegally downloading. Bradley said this was one of the main reasons that prompted the graduated approach and that Eircom will call and discuss the issue with the customer to see where the problem is coming from.

Bradley told us that Eircom recognises that some users may not be aware that they are infringing on copyright, so Eircom's approach will be to inform and educate. He also said that some users may not be properly securing their wireless connections, meaning that others could be tapping in and illegally downloading. Eircom will provide instructions for securing wireless connections to avoid similar issues arising. Eircom has also set up several pages on its website to provide information and tips for users who want to keep out of trouble.

We asked if Eircom believed other ISPs would follow suit and were informed that the IRMA has confirmed that two other Irish ISPs have made an agreement to start on a similar approach. The IRMA would not reveal which ones these were, but we were informed that UPC, formerly Chorus NTL, is due in court on June 10 with the IRMA. UPC believes there is no legal basis for ISPs to monitor or block net access. We were also told that many more ISPs are in negotiations to reach settlements.

Ireland is the first country in the world to implement this tiered approach, but if it is deemed successful here after the first three month trial there is no doubt that it will find its way into other countries, with thousands more people being disconnected for illegal file sharing.