/ Technology

Net pirates shiver as ‘three strikes’ sets sail for Ireland

Copyright key on computer keyboard

‘Avast ye!’ Pirates beware, Ireland’s biggest net provider (Eircom) is the first to walk the plank on internet piracy, trialling a warning process that might just work.

Britain’s Digital Economy Act (DEA) has left illegal file-sharers shaking in their boots. It’s also left many innocent net users concerned by its implications. How exactly will the ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy work? How do I prove my innocence if I’m accused of file-sharing? What happens if I watch too many mildly amusing cat videos on YouTube?

We were maddened by the underhand actions of law firms that sent out threatening mail. Not only were these bullying letters distressing, they were inherently unfair, unethical and breached the Solicitors Code of Conduct (SCoC).

At Which? we prefer the proportionate and graduated response advised by the DEA, rather than “simply scaring people […] into out of court settlements,” as argued by our head of legal affairs Deborah Prince.

The key is to be fair, with ‘guilty until proven innocent’ policies left behind us and unexpected disconnections from the internet thoroughly pre-warned. Eircom’s latest scheme both tapers and magnifies these fears.

A world first

Eircom is the first to trial a ‘three strikes’ scheme. They’ll be sending letters to the naughty individuals identified as sharing illegally online, rather than those accused of just downloading (iTunes dodgers sigh with relief).

Thankfully, Eircom customers won’t be receiving threatening letters ordering them to pay hefty fines. Instead, the initiative takes a graduated response that in very unlikely cases will end with connections being cut off. Any system that looks to change behaviour rather than demand costs and court action is a plus in our book.

On the first two identifications of online buccaneering a letter will be sent to the suspected file-sharer. A follow-up phone call will then alert them to the activity. Warnings on your computer are also a possibility. As if we need more pop-up boxes to provoke computer rage.

If forbidden activities are identified a third time, their net will be withdrawn for one week, with a fourth infraction resulting in a full year’s disconnection.

It’s just a pilot

Eircom will carry out the process for three months, after which its effectiveness will be assessed. If it’s not working, tougher measures could be implemented, such as permanent bans – perhaps a step too far.

There’s real concern over how Eircom’s scheme arose – through an out-of-court settlement with the Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma). Without the Irish Government’s involvement where are the guarantees on consumer protection? What evidence of illegal activity will rights holders be required to show? How can consumers appeal or defend themselves? Although it’ll be interesting to peer at the experiment from across the Irish Sea, innocent internet users could end up as shark bait.

As for the UK, Ofcom is still drafting up its code of conduct with direct involvement from Which? The UK system intends to change behaviour rather than prescribe punishment, with an appeals process in place. However, we think this should be affordable for all consumers, so we’re proposing an ombudsman-like adjudication body to make decisions on whether an accusation is justified.

Eircom’s pilot is a step in the right direction, but we hope it’ll highlight the need for governments to step in and set up official guidelines. Otherwise, we could all be left with useless grey boxes wired to futile broadband connections.

Mr Gus says:
6 July 2010

Although I am very relieved that the ridiculous three strikes method was dropped from the DEA I still think the central issue to this enforcement hasn’t been addressed yet and that is how we identify the people doing the illegal downloading.
from the reports I’ve read it seems that every method of identification is based on IP address and that simply isn’t good enough. IP addresses do not identify a person, just a computer or even just a network router. I think it is also the case that many ISPs still provide dynamic IP addresses that are assigned every time a modem connects and many home wifi connections are left unsecured for anyone to use so how are specific people supposed to be identified.
Aside from all of these points, shouldn’t it be up to someone in law enforcement to make the decision on whether something illegal has been done and whether there should be repercussions?

I disagree – the ISP should be responsible for monitoring illegal copying of commercial items – It doesn’t matter whether it is one person or computer or whatever – If the criminal (and that is what they are) transmits the info – the ISP is aiding and abetting a criminal offence.

This is not the same as changing formats of a privately owned media to be used as a convenience for the home user.