Month: February 2011

Solicitors await a “deluge of legislation” from the next Minister for Justice

© Alan Shatter and/or licensors
"He needs your No 1 vote or he may resort to his phaser weapons."

Fine Gael will probably have the choice of Minister for Justice & Equality and the position is expected by many to go to Alan Shatter, veteran solicitor, politician and publisher of colourful pamphlets.

Shatter was recently interviewed by Stuart Gilhooly for The Parchment and made the following comment, which is either exciting or terrifying depending on your outlook:

He wants a legacy. He wants to change the way the country works. He wants to make a difference. And you get the feeling that if he gets his chance, three decades of frustration will be released by a deluge of legislation.

Much of this deluge may be to the benefit of solicitors. For example, traditions that tend to afford barristers a higher professional status could be done away with: “silly nonsense such as wigs and position in court is treated in contempt” by Shatter. However, given his views on solicitor advocacy and the traditions of the bar, he is surprisingly reticent to offer a definitive view on whether the professions should be amalgamated.

If we are to have modern legal services, there are a few sacred cows that need to be dealt with. The differentiation between solicitors and barristers is going to become more clouded. The question of whether it will be a piecemeal evolution or a structured evolution that is effected by agreement in legislation is an interesting issue.

He goes on to say that solicitors should be admitted to the bar, that changes to solicitors’ costs are on the way but might not be drastic and that the Law Society does a reasonably good job of regulating solicitors. He also “believes that [the] proposed Legal Services Ombudsman who will shortly be appointed may well be sufficient in terms of independent regulation”.

© IMFThe elephant in the interview room was, of course, the IMF. The agreement reached between the Irish Government and the IMF for financial support requires the following structural reforms of the legal professions:

  • establishment of an independent regulator;
  • implementation of the Legal Costs Working Group report; and
  • implementation of the Competition Authority report.

These high-level items provide little detail of what might actually be implemented, unless one assumes that the reports mentioned are implemented in full with no tailoring. Whether or not individual members of the professions agree with the proposed reforms, it is likely that all Irish lawyers would agree that reforms are necessary. As argued by Eoin O’Dell:

It is sad that our governments have not implemented these recommendations of the Legal Costs Working Group and the Competition Authority; indeed, it is doubly sad that it takes an external agency like IMF to insist that these recommendations are in fact implemented.

These reforms must be implemented before the end of 2011 but there has been little news and, as far as I am aware, no communications from the Law Society about the changes since they were announced.

Shatter offers a view on reform of the professions which is quite different than that often aired in the media.

Outside the profession, there is talk of non-solicitors doing this work without realising the complexities to be addressed, the level of training you need or the insurance implications. If you want competition, you don’t want work of lesser quality. It is too easy for politicians who are non-lawyers to talk about competition without understanding the necessity to ensure that professional work is properly done. No one has suggested to the medical profession that non-qualified doctors undertake appendectomies because the perception is that removing someone’s appendix is a relatively simple operation.

Of course, many will dismiss such sentiments as tainted by vested interest. Part of the difficulty for solicitors at present is that their views are rarely given any weight due to the public perception of the profession.

Allied to the disruption facing solicitors when the above reforms are implemented are the ongoing difficulties with solicitors’ insurance. On that topic, Shatter says:

It’s hugely important that consumers are compensated for the negligence of solicitors. Insurance must remain mandatory. The conveyancing area is where a lot of problems arose. Solicitors who were less than expert in conveyancing were charging fees that had no economic reality and short-circuited the work they were doing.

From anecdotal evidence, 2011 will be a horrific year for many solicitors with rumours that a number of successful practices will close. Given that job protection and creation is a core aim of all parties, one hopes that any regulatory changes introduced will not add to the large proportion of the profession which is already unemployed.

Has the Irish Government introduced #3strikes legislation? (Update: No)

[Updates at end] It appears that the Irish Government has implemented or is about to implement a significant change to the Copyright & Related Rights Acts 2000 to 2007 by statutory instrument on the eve of an election.

Silicon Republic reports:

In its final days, the Government is believed to be rushing through a statutory instrument that will amend the existing Copyright Act and which will give judges the power to grant injunctions against ISPs in relation to copyright infringement cases.

The demands for the change came about as a result of Mr. Justice Charleton’s decision in EMI v. UPC last year, when he ruled that Irish law did not allow him to grant such injunction “even though that relief is merited on the facts.”

The decision led to frantic lobbying on the part of record companies and a media campaign on this issue, including dramatic statements from Paul McGuinness that the issue “has got to do with the future of civilisation”.

With the range of other problems facing the Government the issue did not get much priority. The election manifestos of Fine Gael and the Green Party suggest that they are conscious of the issue with FG appearing to support the industry and the Greens appearing to support the consumer.

If accurate, there are many problems with this amendment and TJ McIntyre outlines them in his comments to Silicon Republic. However, whether or not the contents of the amendment to the Acts are agreed with, it is shocking that the Government is proposing to introduce such a contentious change by way of statutory instrument with hours to go before an election.

A statutory instrument is defined as “an order, regulation, rule, scheme or bye-law made in exercise of a power conferred by statute”. Section 7 of the Acts appears to provide reasonably wide scope for the introduction of regulations but it is likely be a topic for debate as to whether the reported change fits within or exceeds that provision.

Ironically, Charleton J. stated in his judgment:

Legislative intervention is required, if the Oireachtas see fit, to protect constitutional rights to copyright and foster the national resource of creativity. (my emphasis)

Updates (24 February 2011)

  • Acting Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Innovation Mary Hanafin has said that there “is no truth in the rumour” that an amendment to the Copyright & Related Rights Acts will be passed before the election. The press Minister expects the next Government to consult on the issue before such an amendment is made.
  • However, an story from the original source of the rumour earlier today said that the Department “neither confirmed nor denied that a statutory instrument was being pushed through, but said “it may be necessary” to introduce measures to clarify Ireland’s position under the Copyright Directive in relation to injunctions, thanks to the recent court case involving UPC and the music industry.”
  • Simon Coveney, a front-bench member of Fine Gael, tweeted about the issue earlier. Fine Gael is highly likely to introduce the amendment following the election but not, one hopes, by way of statutory instrument.

 

Election 2011: Privacy, intellectual property & the internet

With so much of the electoral attention focussed on crisis management, it is easy to ignore other aspects of each party’s manifestos (or the absence of same in the case of many independents).

It is worth checking these manifestos for references to any issues you have a particular interest in: you might be surprised at what you find. Luckily, blogs like Maman Poulet and Human Rights in Ireland are keeping an eye on the aspects of the party manifestos not concerned solely with bond-burning.

Crowd checking the 1931 general election results, Willis Street, Wellington, 1931
Election night results, pre-Twitter

Our courts and citizens are having to deal with an increasing number of issues under our privacy, data protection and intellectual property laws, so I had a look at the parties’ positions in these areas. If I have missed anything, please let me know in the comments, along with suggestions as to what the manifestos should contain.

Fine Gael

  • FG would “review and update Intellectual Property legislation currently in place to benefit innovation.” This commitment is vague and suggests that the party is aware of issues but hasn’t thought about any solutions yet.
  • FG would “clarify the laws relating to on-line copyright infringement and the enforcement of rights relating to digital communications”. This probably refers to the consequences of the IRMA litigation (contrast with the Green Party manifesto, below). Again, the party does not appear to be ready to offer solutions.
  • What is meant by “the enforcement of rights relating to digital communications”? Does it refer to data retention or freedom of speech? The sentence is somewhat worrying in the absence of elaboration.
  • FG will revamp the Patents Office website. This is a bizarrely specific proposal, by contrast with the other high-level proposals.
  • The consultancy industry will be delighted to learn of plans for “an E-day on January 1st, 2016 by which all government services to business will be on-line only.”
  • FG would “develop Ireland as a ‘Digital Island’ and first-mover when it comes to information technology.” One might be forgiven for thinking that is an aspiration that is somewhat unrealistic in 2011.
  • FG would introduce a national DNA database. The process of doing so had already been started by the outgoing administration.
  • The party proposes a Circuit Commercial Court along the lines of the existing Commercial Court but which deals with smaller-value commercial disputes (the Circuit Court can generally hear cases for claims worth up to €38,092.14)

Labour

  • Labour’s Innovation Strategy Agency would, among other things, “make Ireland a world leader in the management of [IP]”.
  • Labour “supports the development of an International Content Services Centre in Ireland, and its potential to make Ireland a European hub for the dissemination of Intellectual Property.” This was, in fact, a commitment of the renewed Programme for Government agreed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in October 2009. It is also firmly in Your Country, Your Call territory: one of the winning YCYC proposals was to establish an ICSC. The competition winners were announced in September 2010, almost one year after the establishment of an ICSC became Government policy.
  • Labour propose to introduce civil orders against serious offenders following conviction, for example, restrictions on the use of the internet by those convicted of child sex offences.
  • Labour wants to make Ireland a headquarters location for data centres and cloud computing. The party would establish an expert group to review security and privacy issues arising from these areas. A data protection review group established by the Minister for Justice 2008 published a report in 2010. The EU is also currently reviewing the Data Protection Directive (Irish law implements the Directive) and cloud computing is one issue under review in that context.

Fianna Fáil

I will not be the first to suggest that the FF manifesto consists primarily of a defence of the outgoing Government’s policies and lists of achievements since 1997. It is not surprising, therefore, that party does not appear to offer much in the areas of privacy, IP and the internet.

No direct reference is made to copyright, data protection, privacy or the internet (not one instance of the word internet in the whole manifesto, though commitments are made about broadband). One, incidental, reference is made to IP in the context of publicly-funded research. While FG want to clarify the law on exploiting IP developed by third level institutions, FF want the outcomes of publicly-funded research to be made freely available “save where there are specific commercial intellectual-property issues.”

  • FF commits to supporting research and development and to continue use of the innovation voucher system to help small businesses acquire R&D.
  • Like the Labour party, the FF manifesto commits to fostering cloud computing services. It also commits to establishing the International Content Services Centre (as already mentioned, this has been Government policy since 2009).

Green Party

  • The Greens would “[p]revent private organisations from intruding into a citizen’s privacy”. The Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003 already do this in general terms, but I assume that the Greens are proposing either reform of those Acts or the implementation of some form of specific privacy law, as was proposed but not implemented by the outgoing administration.
  • The Greens would prevent organisations from “summarily punishing citizens for alleged illegal activities and from interfering with citizens’ legitimate and legal uses of content.” Again, a little interpretation is required, but I assume this suggests that the Greens would deal with the consequences of the IRMA litigation in a manner which favours citizens over companies. As Minister for Communications, Eamon Ryan said that he was seeking the advice of the Attorney General in this area but his holding statement to the Dáil last year did not indicate any thinking along the lines of what is now contained in the manifesto.
  • The party would “[u]pdate the role of the Data Commissioner to ensure evolving technologies are in check with the rights of Irish citizens.” This might refer to increased enforcement powers, which would be welcome.
  • The party would completely oppose the introduction of software patents.

Sinn Féin

The SF manifesto makes no direct reference to copyright, intellectual property, data protection, privacy or the internet. However, the party would “focus on creating new jobs across the agri-food, tourism and IT/pharma sectors, and Research and Development as well as with initiatives that will ensure Ireland becomes a world leader in green energy.”


The challenge for solicitors

The current issue of The Parchment includes a brief but interesting interview with Michael Finucane, well-known criminal law and human rights solicitor and son of the late Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane. [See page 30 of printed magazine, page 32 of online version.]

He sums up the challenge facing solicitors well in two sentences.

We are a sector being squeezed like no other but for whom there is absolutely no sympathy because of how we’re perceived. What we need to achieve long term is to remind people we are composed of more than partners for property developers; we should take pride in our profession and make it worthy of respect and trust.

Do you own your wedding album?

You might think this a silly question. Of course you own your cherished wedding or civil partnership ceremony photographs. But how far does that ownership extend? Do you have the right to make copies of them and, perhaps more importantly, control their use? The short answer, for most couples, is: no.

Section 23 of the Copyright and Related Rights Acts 2000 to 2007 sets the default position: the author of a work shall be the owner of copyright in that work. In the case of photographs, section 21(h) provides that the author means the photographer. Accordingly, if your photographer provides you with an  album and nothing more is said or agreed, it is likely that you have merely purchased the services of the photographer in attending the ceremony along with the physical photo album.

Center for Jewish History, NYC
I suspect this couple was not given a CD of their wedding photos.

These days, photographers usually offer additional goods or services. For example, many provide a CD with digital copies of some or all of the photos. Some charge extra for such a CD. This is usually done with the expectation that the customer is entitled to make unlimited copies of these photos, but the agreement is often not explicit on this point. Indeed, many customers will not have a written contract in place with their photographer. If the customer is provided with a set of terms and conditions, perhaps on the invoice, this will probably form that contract.

If a photographer provides a CD of digital photos with the right to make copies, this might not permit further dealing with the photos, such as the right to upload them to Pix.ie or Facebook, for example, or to apply effects so that the photo could be printed on canvas in the style of a painting.

An important consequence of the photographer retaining copyright in the photos is that (s)he benefits from the rights of the copyright owner set out in Part II Chapter 4 of the Acts, specifically the right of the photographer to make his/her own use of the photos. I have come across a number of incidents where a recently married couple was surprised to find photos of their wedding displayed on the photographer’s website, magazine ads or even at wedding fairs (in one such case, the bride had not yet seen her own wedding photos when she saw them displayed at a wedding fair).

At this point first ownership of copyright in photos clashes with the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003. A photograph of individuals is personal data for the purposes of the Acts and generally should not be displayed publicly by another person without the consent of the people depicted in the photo. A photographer’s terms and conditions might include such consent, but any such consent can only be given by the customers (the couple) and cannot apply to guests. [See also the comments below concerning the right to privacy contained in section 114 of the Copyright and Related Rights Acts.]

Section 22A of the Data Protection Acts provides a limited exemption in the case of journalistic or artistic use of personal data but it is hard to see how a photographer could establish that publication of private photos was a matter of public interest (except perhaps in the case of celebrities, an area which itself is fraught with legal claims).

It is possible to agree with the photographer that copyright in all photos shall be assigned (ie. transferred) to the customer. Any such agreement must be in writing. However, most photographers will either be unwilling to agree to assignment or will charge an additional fee (which might be substantial).

As with anything, it is advisable to discuss with a photographer what exactly is being provided. The photographer should be asked if they retain copyright or assign it, and if they retain it reach explicit agreement on:

  1. what is the customer permitted to do with the photos provided; and
  2. that the photographer will agree not to use the photos in any public way.

The surprising reason given for the change to HSE policy on providing patient lists to clergy

This morning’s Irish Times reports on a change to a Health Service Executive policy I never knew existed. Until now, Irish hospitals provided members of the clergy with access to patient admission records. This practice, the article reports, “has been stopped by recent data protection legislation.”

I was surprised by the reference in the article to “recent data protection legislation” and “new legislation”. The main Irish legislation in this area is the Data Protection Act 1988. It was amended in 2003. There are a number of regulations affecting those Acts but the most recent relates only to the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

So, is the new legislation referred to the 8 year old act or the 23 year old one?

The truth is, one might reasonable speculate, that the consequences of long-standing legislative requirements have recently been considered by the HSE and they changed their policy accordingly. [I since found that the Offaly Independent reported on this story last Friday, without any indication that the legislative requirement which led to the policy change was new or recent.]

Information on an individual’s health is sensitive personal data for the purposes of the Acts and is the category of personal information that is subject to the strongest protections.

The Data Protection Commissioner has published a guidance note on the application of the Acts to the health sector. That note begins with the following, non-legislative point:

The confidentiality of patient records forms part of the ancient Hippocratic oath, and is central to the ethical tradition of medicine and health care.

It goes on to say that

Given the immense sensitivity of health-related information, it is imperative that professionals in this sector be clear about their use of personal data.

This recent, very much belated, change of policy by the HSE suggests that the organisation may have some distance to travel in this regard.

Irish data retention law now in force

There has been so much political uncertainty in recent weeks that one wonders what business of Government has gone on unnoticed. One such item of business, I discovered from the A&L Goodbody legislative FAQ referred to earlier, was the passing by the Oireachtas of the Communications (Retention of Data) Act 2011.

This controversial piece of legislation is not available,  as yet, in its final form as none of the Department of JusticeHouses of the Oireachtas or Irish Statute Book have published it.

The President signed the Act into law on 26 January 2011 but, as far as I am aware, this has not been reported on anywhere. The commencement date is not known but the latest draft available does not contain a commencement clause so, if one was not inserted before it was passed by the Oireachtas, it is now in effect.

[Update: I wasn’t correct in stating that the introduction of the Act hasn’t been reported on. I had missed Eoin O’Dell’s reference to its passing on his blog and Karlin Lillington‘s coverage in the Irish Times. She also covered the Seanad debates on twitter. However, it is still noteworthy that this news has been confined to analysis pieces and has not been headline news, by contrast with other rushed legislation recently signed by the President.]

According to the Internet Service Providers Association of Ireland:

ISPs providing Internet services to the public are now obliged to retain certain data, as set out in the Act, identifying the occurrence of a communication (but not about the content of the communication itself). This must be done for every user, whether they are a private or business customer. In the case of Internet communications the ISP must keep the data for a period of one year … [The] ISPAI regrets [the passing of the Act] despite the trojan efforts of non-government Senators who argued the amendments (which were defeated) aimed at giving greater clarity to the legislation and particularly to minimise its potential to put Ireland at a cost disadvantage to our EU neighbours for Internet based business.

Digital Rights Ireland summarised the effect of the legislation when it was first put before the Oireacthas as follows:

In essence, the Bill requires telecommunications companies, internet service providers, and the like, to retain data about communications (though not the content of the communications); phone and mobile traffic data have to be retained for 2 years; internet communications have to be retained for one year … This will impose significant costs on those obliged to retain and secure the data, and those costs will be passed on to their already hard-pressed customers. And it is likely to drive international telecommunications and internet companies to European states which have introduced far less demanding regimes.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties made submissions to the Department of Justice about the legislation. Digital Rights Ireland took a constitutional challenge against the legislation and that challenge is en route to the European Court of Justice (the Act implements the EU data retention directive).