Eircom, the Irish incumbent telco, has introduced a ‘four strikes and you're out’ anti-piracy policy, making Ireland the first European country to take such measures, beating even France to the punch. Under the provisions of the policy, the Irish Recorded Music Association (Irma) will supply Eircom with IP addresses of thousands of infringers from which the ISP will select just 50 a week and match them against postal addresses. These 50 will then receive notification letters, a phone call, and potentially a browser pop-up. If they are identified a 3rd time, they will have their connection temporarily cut off, and if they are caught a 4th time, they will lose access for an entire year.

There are a number of interesting issues here:

  • It is not clear whether the initially identified individuals will be monitored for future behavior or whether the process depends upon them being identified with the normal selection criteria. If it is the latter, there will be few repeat infringers identified. Firstly, the repeat infringer has to be found in the initial trawl that captures just a few thousand of Ireland’s millions of file sharers; then, should luck (bad or good depending upon your perspective) result in that individual being in that sample, they then have to be captured in the Eircom 50. Repeat that 3 times to get to 4 infringements. The odds of that happening are probably not far off those of winning the lottery. So if this approach is going to have any teeth, it will need to ensure infringers are proactively monitored after being identified the 1st time.
  • Eircom is planning on launching a new music service later this year. It should be there now. Beating file sharers with the big stick of connection suspension is going to bear little fruit unless there is a similarly fat carrot to tempt them with. File sharers need somewhere else to go, and somewhere that isn’t just iTunes. 
  • File sharing goes way beyond peer-to-peer networks. The recent US ruling that RapidShare is no Napster misses the point that it and other upload sites are becoming a destination of choice for file sharers that are getting worried about being caught on peer to peer networks. The US ruling argued that RapidShare does not facilitate indexing and searching of the content on its network, but of course it exists in an ecosystem of supporting sites and forums that do. File sharing is increasingly going off-network. Unless genuinely compelling legal alternatives are in place (e.g., cheap, subsidized all-you-can-eat MP3 subscriptions), enforcement will do little other than accelerate the off-network trend.