ONE OF THE MOST STRESSFUL topics of discussion in the online community of Ireland concerns the statutory instrument to amend the Copyright Act 2000. Once you crack the discussion open, you discover it's actually no more than a bailout for the entertainment industry in Ireland.
As things stand, a simple stroke of the pen could impose higher fees on everyone using the internet in Ireland. Those increased fees would be needed by internet service providers as they became the online vigilantes for the music industry. This allows the music industry to cling to its outmoded business models instead of focusing its efforts on providing better subscription services for a rapidly growing market of connected consumers.
A lot of people consider the ideas mooted by Deputy Sean Sherlock to be no more than an "Irish SOPA" because of the draconian nature of the stipulations engrained in proposed legislation crafted by Minister Sherlock. Irish Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have "very practical and simple business reasons” to reject Sherlock's solution to a problem created by the Irish music industry.
Threatened by the music industry with court proceedings, the Irish government hopes that a mere statutory instrument will be good enough to empower Irish courts to shut down websites, block content or impose fines.
The problem arose in the Irish courts in 2010 when the music industry failed to secure an injunction against UPC, a large Irish ISP. In his judgment Mr. Justice Charleton interpreted that Irish law did not give him the means to grant the injunction which the plaintiffs sought. He wanted the politicians to clarify what the courts could do. So what the Irish government has proposed that the courts should be able to decide their judgments on a case-by-case basis.
I don't understand why the legislative branch needs to act in this fashion. If the court doesn't want to decide what to do, then the plaintiff can merely file suit in a higher court. Done.
But no. Because it needs a bailout, the music industry is now suing Ireland for lost revenue. If the court finds in the music industry's favour, the Irish taxpayer will hand over millions of euro to help bail out the music industry.
There is no line item in the current IMF European Bailout Fund for the music industry so Minister Sherlock cobbled together a small change to the Copyright Act. "The problem is Minister Sherlock's quick fix is far too broad, offers no clarification, simply cites the EU Directive and effectively throws interpretation back to the courts," the ISPs said.
Sherlock's Bailout Measure increases pressure on already stressed service providers who will have no option but to pass along costs to stretched consumers. All because the music industry needs a bailout.
A lot of companies will feel the pain of this music industry bailout because Ireland's success depends upon exports. Companies use the internet to meet and serve an international audience. ISPs have well-oiled services that facilitate the handling of data, e-commerce solutions and content belonging to other people from across the globe. The internet is a core part of the Knowledge Economy. Attacking the internet with wrong-footed legislation is wrong on so many levels.
But that's what we have with the SSI (Sherlock's Statutory Instrument) because it permits the courts to decide case by case on how to handle claims of copyright infringement. The courts will be able to decide whether the ISPs should be forced to block access or remove content. This is exactly what SOPA intends to do as well.
According to ISPAI manager Paul Durrant, Sherlock's statutory instrument fails on many levels because it means establishing technical blocking measures against websites, parts of websites and internet services that aren't even in Ireland. “Though it is easy to say, it can only be achieved by complex technical interference with the fundamental systems that keep the internet up and running."
If forced to block sites and content, ISPs may have to whitelist only a portion of the internet. "The vast quantity of music tracks and films against which traffic would have to be checked would probably grind the Internet to a halt, affecting all the online services on which we have come to rely," Durrant said.
I depend upon the internet services of HEAnet. I get pop-up screens on my browser when my network thinks I'm trying to illicitly obtain copyrighted content or when my organisation thinks I'm time-wasting. It's a little frustrating at times but whenever I encounter a restriction, I raise a Help Desk ticket and I (and anyone else on my HEANET node) get unencumbered access. This means that if someone from the music industry was seeing the internet over my shoulder, they might seek to shut down HEAnet.
And then what?
Are we really going to permit the Irish music industry to determine how I write third level curricula learning objects? Do we feel it's right for the Irish music industry to establish a precedent for higher education access to the internet across the entire EU, based on how they can impose their will on Ireland's Higher Education internet access point?
I am worried that HEAnet will cave in and begin to start policing my academic research. I don't do porn but I've visited to make screenshots of Megaupload, Bit Torrent, and some irreverent hipster sites that would not please the music industry. I've years of music stored on Podcasting.ie and that would be subject to the same stifling scrutiny because the music industry might argue "he's sharing a terabyte of his music library with the internet". This could easily happen with the SSI, shutting down my personal cloud storage on a whim.
I need continued and unfettered access to places that help me create things. I need to stop SOPA in Ireland. I need Minister Sean Sherlock to represent the intrests of innovation in Ireland by articulating the future of Ireland as a place where cloud computing can develop, where shared hosting can prosper and where our digital culture can blossom without the stifling effects of the recorded music industry.
ISPAI Comment on the Statutory Instrument (single page PDF), February 2, 2012.
Cory Doctorow -- "SOPA, ACTA, and WIPO: Where is the copyfight headed?" on Boing Boing, February 3, 2012.
Stop SOPA Ireland encourages Irish citizens to visit their serving TDs to register personal concern about this issue.
Sean Sherlock has a Twitter account that goes curiously quiet when the heat is on.