November 26, 2011
EU Court Rules ISPs Cannot Be Forced To Block Copyrighted Content
Content owners cannot force Internet service providers to filter or block copyright-infringing material, including programs and websites that allow users to illegally download music or other files, according to a ruling handed down by the European Court of Justice Thursday.
According to Mark Brown of Wired.co.uk, the ruling, handed down by the EU's highest court, ends a court battle that started seven years ago. In 2004, Belgian music rights firm SABAM learned that users of a local ISP, Scarlet, had been using peer-to-peer networks to illegally download copyrighted music.
SABAM went to the Brussels Court of First Instance, who ordered Scarlet to find a way to stop its users from sending and receiving material owned by SABAM. The ISP appealed, claiming that the injunction conflicted with the E-Commerce Directive, Brown added.
Now the European Court of Justice has agreed with Scarlet, ruling that "EU law precludes the imposition of an injunction by a national court which requires an internet service provider to install a filtering system with a view to preventing the illegal downloading of files."
The AFP called the ruling "a defeat for backers of web filters, including artists and the entertainment industry, who are fighting to protect their work from circulating freely on the Internet," and said that in their decision, the judges decreed that "a national court cannot impose an injunction ordering an Internet provider to install a filtering system for all electronic communications, saying it is too expensive for the company and could infringe on people's fundamental rights."
The French news agency added that an injunction would "result in a serious infringement of Scarlet's freedom to conduct its business as it would require Scarlet to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense," and that such a filtering system "would also be liable to infringe the fundamental rights of its customers, namely their right to protection of their personal data and their right to receive or impart information."
Content owners can still pressure ISPs to block individual websites, though, Brown said.
According to BBC News, the ruling could set a precedent for other, similar cases. For example, two firms, TalkTalk and BT, are currently challenging the UK's Digital Economy Act, claiming that the anti-piracy laws also violate the E-Commerce Directive. Online freedom groups also hailed the decision, according to the British media organization's Thursday article covering the ruling.
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