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Blackout Ireland – fighting Internet censorship

March 6, 2009

The RIAA. Many of you will know this acronym – they’re the Recording Industry Association of America, and it’s a group that represents the big 4 record labels – Sony, EMI, Universal and Warner. They are very well known in the US for their shameful lawsuits to people who they label as “pirates” or “copyright infringers”, some times sueing them for the inscredible amount of $750 per tune. Fortunately, it seems that the US Courts are not finding those lawsuits funny anymore, and due to the work of some excellent lawyers, the tide is turning and RIAA has even been sued for fraud, abuse, and “Sham Litigation” .

But even though things don’t seem to be working for them in the US, that didn’t stop them from trying similar actions in Europe. IRMA, the Irish equivalent of the RIAA, have sued Eircom so that the biggest Irish internet provider would filter IP addresses that “infringe copyright” and… Eircom fell for it and settled.

The details of the settlement are disgraceful, and it seems IRMA can now have websites blocked on request, which Eircom won’t challenge. Let’s see some implications on this:

1) Censorship. I don’t have to tell you how bad this is – I would personally prefer not to feel as a character of George Orwell’s “1984”, thank you.

2) Websites blocked on request. Potentially any site that IRMA decides is bad for their business, can get blocked. Could be any indie site that legally sells mp3, or wordpress.com, since I’m writing this, or google.com as users might search for mp3 there. The possibilities are endless.

3) Snooping into users’ privacy. As Telenor (Norwegian ISP who challenged an equivalent lawsuit) wrote, “Asking an ISP to control and assess what Internet users can and cannot download is just as wrong as asking the post office to open and read letters and decide what should and should not be delivered.”. See reference to “1984” above.

Allow me to pause for a moment to look at the bigger picture. Obviously piracy is wrong, but piracy is not quite the issue here. Many years ago, it was the radio being accused of potentially killing the discographic business. Now it’s the internet. Even though famous musicians like Trent Reznor/NiN have made some serious money out of allowing fans to freely download their music , still some entities have not understood that time moves on and so do business models.

It’s not like the big 4 have given good alternatives to people who actually want to get their music files legally. Let’s say Mr. Joe Bloggs wants an mp3 from one of the musicians that “belongs” to the big 4. What can he do? There’s iTunes, which requires a standalone client, is not compatible with all main OSs, and only has, as far as I know, a partial catalog of only one of the big 4’s discographies. There’s mp3 stores at amazon.co.uk or play.com, but they don’t sell to Ireland – I can understand online shop restictions when it comes to packages, but restricting downloads to countries is another of those brilliant ideas I’ll never understand. What is Mr. Joe Bloggs going to do? He’ll have to buy the cd from amazon (if he can find it there, but if an online shop doesn’t have the CD he’s looking for, odds are he won’t find it at his local CD shop), wait for it to arrive, and rip it to mp3 (if he knows how to do it). The only positive thing is… often a CD is still cheaper than the download of the full album from an online music store – funny isn’t it?

So Blackout Ireland was formed by a group of Internet users in Ireland who do not want to be subject to this new form of censorship. To support this effort, you can visit the website, perhaps follow a few of the suggestions mentioned there (contact your ISP, etc), and change your avatar in any public social networks (Twitter, Facebook, etc) to this:

Blackout Ireland

Blackout Ireland

Other links:

James Cooley – Guilt upon Accusation and Internet freedom in Ireland

Uldis Bojars – Post details: Irish Internet Blackout

Aubrey Robinson – Blackout Ireland – Some Questions

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