Today eircom implemented their three strike rule. Here is a letter I sent to my local TD recently on the subject.

Dear Ciaran,

Thanks for your tweet regarding the judicial decision regarding the so called ‘3 strike rule’ being implemented by eircom at the request of the music and movie industries. I hope you have the time to read this reply.

You mentioned that ‘false accusations are problematic’. That is true, but there are many other issues.

The success of the Irish economy has largely been driven by our well educated workforce, and that’s whats going to help us going forward. Many Irish businesses innovated and major multinationals set up in the country (Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SUN Microsystems, etc.) in part thanks to the experience of the Irish workforce with information technology. We are now some 20 years on from when the internet first appeared in Ireland. And while we still have embarrassingly bad infrastructure compared to other European countries the internet is a vital part of our lives. Access to government information and banking are now predominantly done online, much educational content is internet dependent, and it is not even possible to fly with some airlines now without internet access. The Irish government needs to recognise the importance of the internet and establish rights for citizens to have unrestricted and unfiltered access to it.

The three strikes rule is fundamentally flawed for several reasons.

The music and movie industries claim that they can identify the IP address of an offending computer. This raises an important privacy concern, in order to do this they need to monitor the activity of millions of law abiding citizens, and this monitoring is done by private companies not by an accountable public law enforcement agency. Furthermore this activity may take place outside of Ireland and as such may be illegal. The company that the music industry has previously used, MediaSentry, has a track record of false accusations and has been found to be operating illegally in several US states.

Assuming that the industry can identify an IP address, this does not identify a specific computer or individual. For home users the IP address actually identifies the broadband modem and so can identify the account holder. However may computers may use this single IP address, all members of a family may have their own phones and computers connected, as well as visitors. And that’s before we consider the kid next door hacking into your network! It is also possible to fake IP addresses which would also make reliable identification impossible.

But lets assume the unlikely, that the industry has correctly identified the IP address of an offender. They would then be in a position to begin the process to cut the users internet connection. The user identified would be the billpayer, but the culprit could potentially be anyone else. For example a child who despite being told its wrong, continues to download songs. In this case the child could cause the household internet connection to be cut; no one in the house would be able to do online banking, access government websites, shop online, or fly with certain airlines; furthermore a parent may be forced out of work if any part of their job involves working remotely – even though they have done nothing wrong.

So while copyright infringement is a crime, principles of law are being violated here. The punishment is disproportionate, infringing copyright should not result in the user and those they live with being punished as outlined above – a roughly equivalent crime to downloading illegally, stealing a CD or DVD, would result in a minor shoplifting offense – not the banning of the accused and their entire family from using shops! When accused of a crime the accuser must be able to prove guilt and the accused must be given an opportunity to defend themselves; no such mechanism exists with the music and movie industry deal with eircom since it is a private deal that acts outside and above the law.

In short, the 3 strikes rule should be made illegal in Ireland and the EU because: its unreliable, it’s disproportionate, and it affects innocent 3rd parties.

The government needs to follow the example of other nations in recognising the rights of citizens to uncensored and unmonitored internet access. Ireland’s future as a digital economy needs this. By doing so it would bring this deal within the law – since no citizen could be disconnected without a court ordering it.

The music and movie industries have failed for 15 years to deal with the internet. Only in the last couple of years have they embraced digital downloads, and that push has come from from companies like apple (a computer manufacturer), amazon (a online bookstore) and last.fm (started as a project in the University of Southampton) – NOT from the music industry. If copyright is so important to them then they should simply work within the law – bring the evidence to the gardai and have the offender prosecuted in court.

Best Wishes,
~Albert White