Irish Twitter and Facebook Users Protest ISP Disconnects

DUBLIN, Ireland -- A group calling itself Blackout Ireland staged an avatar blackout Thursday on Twitter and Facebook to protest plans for ISPs to disconnect those who use peer-to-peer groups to illegally download copyrighted material.

Profile pictures have been blacked out by some Irish members of the most popular social networking sites, which also include Bebo and MySpace.

The Irish Times reports Emerald Isle Internet users were asked to contact their ISPs and politicians, including Minister for Communications Eamon Ryan, to oppose plans for graduated response, restrictions and site bans, pushed by the Irish Recorded Music Association (IRMA).

IRMA represents major record companies EMI, Sony, Warners and Universal. The group has sent a letter to Irish ISPS, demanding they sign an agreement similar to its deal with the nation's largest ISP, Eircom, to provide the IP addresses of users uploading or downloading copyrighted material and disconnecting subscribers who violate a "three strikes" policy of warnings.

The Eircom pact was part of an out-of-court settlement over a copyright infringement lawsuit from IRMA, and the ISP giant also agreed to block P2P groups that include the notorious torrent-listing site, The Pirate Bay.

On its website, Blackout Ireland said it "does not think that this will be effective in combating piracy," also calling the plan "a serious breach of civil liberties and that it constitutes censorship."

"There is no certainty in what sites IRMA will include in their requests for banning," Blackout Ireland stated. "Will they seek to ban websites that merely link to copyrightable content, without actually hosting it? Proxy websites that could serve to circumvent the ban? Sites like that promote boycotting members of record label associations? Blogs that criticize IRMA's actions? This very website? There is no telling where IRMA will draw the line. This is a very slippery slope."

A protest similar to the Irish blackout took place in New Zealand last month with apparent success, delaying the government's plans for graduated response.

France has also examined a "three strikes" policy on illegal downloading, while Germany has rejected it outright.