Free films, songs, books and software are every media miser's fantasy. With basic internet access and a decent download speed this fantasy became a reality through file sharing networks from as early as 2001. "The Pirate Bay", classed as "The world's most resilient BitTorrent site" is one of countless file sharing sites allowing access to almost unlimited copyrighted material for free. It is currently ranked as the 77th most visited website in the world and has a registered 5.5 million active users.
The existence of more discreetly named pirate sites is widespread across the internet and can be found through a simple Google search. However access to these sites has never been censored or cut off to web users availing of these file sharing services.
On July 24th 2009, an order was made by the High Court in Ireland demanding Eircom to discontinue or deactivate access to the subscribers of the Pirate Bay through its domain names, related content, URLS and I.P addresses. This distressed Eircom customers as rumours of Eircom monitoring customer's activities, placing monitoring equipment or software on its network circulated around its clientele. Amongst these rumours customers also feared Eircom would provide personal details or related information to the record companies. The company assured its customers that no such procedures were to take place and that;
"Should the PirateBay website content be legitimatised in the future then eircom has liberty to apply to the Court to have the Order vacated and access to the PirateBay website enabled."
Customers remained unsatisfied with the overall choice of the site being censored and remained unsatisfied with the service. The majority of Eircom's clients then fled to Eircom's main rival UPC, in order to gain access to sites similar to The Pirate Bay.
Eircom's "3 strikes and your out" Scheme
After the initial censorship of The Pirate Bay, Eircom took further action by implanting a "3 strike" policy. If an Eircom customer tried to gain access to a censored pirate site, or attempted to download illegal copyrighted material, it would then match IP addresses which with its customers. The "first strike" would result in customers receiving warnings about alleged illegal downloading. If warnings are ignored, internet access could be withdrawn for 7 day period without charge. The "second strike" of alleged copyright infringement results in service being suspended for a further 12 months. The final consequences of a "third strike" are complete disconnection from Eircom and a possible court summons depending on the individual case.
UPC and The Pirate Bay
The success of The Pirate Bay censorship with Eircom encouraged record labels to pursue other internet providers to block peer to peer networks. The four main record labels; EMI, Warner, Universal and Sony BMG sought out UPC and requested that they too should censor The Pirate Bay for its clients. UPC refused the request on the basis that there is no Irish law in existence that requires an ISP to block access to certain websites. UPC will hold their stance on this issue stating that they; "Will not agree to a request that goes beyond what is currently provided for under Irish law."
However the company also assured the record labels that they would take the right action with right holders 'where there is a legal basis to do so'. Unlike Eircom, UPC did not buckle under pressure from intimidating music companies and resort to censoring their client's web access.
The act of pirating copyrighted material in itself is an offense but when internet providers censor access to these sites it raises the question; "Is the censoring of certain sites a breach of the human right to have access to internet?" and "Is the tracking of ISP address and sending notices a breach of privacy?" The argument is endless across blogs and forums. The end result is if a given file sharing website is censored customers simply "migrate" from one service provider to another in search of a "censor free" internet connection so that access isn't restricted. If the overall outcome is under certain extreme conditions (record labels losing a substantial amount of money), the internet can indeed be censored.