Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How to be sued by space cadets - Regtel, text messages and "Ireland's first astronaut"

Tom Higgins is a space cadet. Literally. He has signed a contract with Virgin Galactic for their forthcoming space tourism service and claims the grandiloquent and somewhat premature title of Ireland's first astronaut.

He's also the owner of Realm Communications, a company which runs premium text and chatline services such as Irish Psychics Live and which has, to say the least, a patchy record when it comes to sending spam text messages. In fact, the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) is currently prosecuting Realm for sending these messages, something which Realm is seeking to head off by claiming in the High Court that the DPC is "obliged to seek an amicable resolution" before prosecuting an offender.

Now Realm is also suing Regtel - the industry self-regulatory body for premium rate telecommunications services. Why? After multiple complaints (e.g. 1, 2, 3) about Realm's Foneclub / MobileMania services, RegTel decided that Realm was operating in breach of its Code of Practice and decided to impose a 12 month suspension during which it would be unable to send premium messages. From the Irish Times:
ONE OF Ireland's best-known premium mobile phone text providers claims that its business would be 'wiped out' if a 12-month suspension from sending messages is imposed by the independent regulator (RegTel).

Realm Communications Ltd, Castle Drive City West business Park, Dublin, has brought High Court proceedings arising out of a finding by the Regulator of Premium Rate Telecommunications Services (RegTel) that its mobile phone credit service, FoneClub/ Mobile Mania, had breached the terms of its code of practice.

Realm was founded by businessman Tom Higgins and provides other services such as Irish Psychics Live, WebTarot, Century Psychics and Great Irish Breaks, as well as a live weather forecasting service. It argues that the findings made by RegTel following alleged complaints are unlawful.

Realm is seeking to have RegTel's adjudication and proposed sanctions, including the suspension of its services, quashed.
This case will, if it proceeds, be the first time that this industry self-regulation has been examined in the courts. (Realm Communications has, apparently, sued RegTel before, but that action doesn't seem to have made it to trial.) Ironically, this dispute comes just after the Minister for Communications announced his belief that self-regulation has failed and promised to amend the Broadcasting Bill 2008 to have RegTel's functions transferred to Comreg. In light of its apparent imminent demise, how keen will RegTel be to fight this particular battle?

Eoin O'Dell has more on how RegTel and the Data Protection Commissioner have been cooperating to stop mobile phone spam.

Update (4.11.08): Imminent demise or otherwise, RegTel appear to be keen to have the matter determined and have had the case transferred to the Commercial Court in order to "fast track" it.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Back to the future? Applying the Press Code of Practice retrospectively to online archives

Eoin's post on the statistics for the first six months of operation of the Press Ombudsman prompted me to browse the summaries of each case on the Ombudsman's site. There are a variety of issues in those cases, but one interesting feature was the apparent willingness of the Ombudsman and newspapers to apply the Code of Practice retrospectively. When initially established, the Press Ombudsman indicated that complaints would not be accepted in respect of material published prior to November 2007 - and in any event, the complaint must be made within three months of the material being published. Despite this, however, in two cases resolved by the Ombudsman newspapers were willing to take down material published by them between 2001 and 2004 but still available on their websites. Is this significant in itself? Probably not. The cases were resolved by conciliation - the Ombudsman doesn't seem to be asserting any formal power to comb over the archives. But it is indicative of an ongoing problem for editors, who increasingly have to stand over not just what they publish but also (via the online archives) what their predecessors might have published.