The Lawyer Behind The Stop Sopa Ireland Campaign Writes

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Last week I was invited to attend a panel discussion on the new SOPAIreland Copyright Law, tomorrow in the Science Gallery [Dublin]. It was a small panel – Minister Sean Sherlock (above), Paul Durrant representing Ireland’s ISPs, Tom Murphy from Boards.ie representing intermediaries and me.

Last Thursday I got a lunchtime phone call from the event organiser. He told me he’d just got off the phone from speaking to the Minister’s office. The Minister had wanted him to know that unless I was uninvited, he would cancel. A diary clash would arise, was how it was put, I was told.

I agreed to be uninvited.

I have nothing but sympathy for the organiser, who is trying to do something valuable for his developer community. He had first said that the Minister was concerned the panel was too large and should be reduced by one. I said that I knew Tom Murphy wouldn’t mind stepping down. That was when he had to to explain that it had been made clear to him that I was the one who had to be trimmed.

The event is on tomorrow at lunch time (free tickets too) but in my eyes it will represent an opportunity lost. That’s because the Minister has only agreed to attend if everyone on the panel represents a commercial interest. That’s what the Department of Enterprise has long been comfortable with, and that is what the Minister has clearly decided he is comfortable with.

Both Minister Sherlock and his FF predecessors like to talk about copyright being a balancing act between “two sides”. They define those sides as two competing commercial interests – ISPs on the one hand and copyright controllers like EMI et al on the other. In this view, laws should be made to reflect deals done between those two interests.

There is no room for the public interest in that vision. For better or worse, I was on the panel representing the tens of thousands of Irish people who had lobbied the government over the SI as part of the StopSOPAIreland.com campaign. And the Minister didn’t want even one voice from that group to be heard.

There is currently a consultation on the overhaul of copyright law in Ireland running, chaired by TCD law academic Dr. Eoin O’Dell. It held a public meeting last Saturday. Dozens of paid lobbyists turned up on behalf of the National Newspapers of Ireland, the music labels and other rights holders.

When the time came for someone to speak up on behalf of copyright users, ie, everyone else in the country, there was silence.

Money talks, everyone knows that. It can even pay for people to talk for it. But copyright, at its heart, is a question that is more important than money. It effects our culture, our galleries and museums, our ability to discuss current issues and works of art and even how we express ourselves in creating new art. It is the law that says how our society is going to regulate and reward creativity of all sorts.

But how can we have a proper discussion when our Government Ministers decide in advance who they do and don’t want to hear from? And in what sense are they our Government when the people they don’t want to hear from are us?

Simon McGarr, April 2, 2012.

Update: Sean Sherlock responds:

I had stated to Sean Nicholls (organiser) that I wanted some balance on the podium. Mr. Murphy (boards.ie), Paul Durant (ISPAI) would act as panellists and John Kennedy (Silicon Republic) would moderate. McGarr’s name was also suggested as a panellist. I stated that I did not want to share a podium with someone who generated an online campaign that falsely compared the Statutory Instrument to the US SOPA legislation. I stated to Sean that I had an issue with sharing a podium with Mr McGarr and I would not attend if he was on the podium. I wish to make it clear that I expressly stated that I had no issue with Mr McGarr attending the event and I would be happy for him to do so.

More here

11pm Update: It’s Never Too Late For A U-Turn

Digital Rights Forum (Science Gallery)

Stop Sopa Ireland (McGarr Solicitors)

(James Horan/Photocall ireland)