The European Court of Justice has ruled that Internet service providers can’t be made to install monitoring systems to prevent illegal downloads of copyrighted material, as this method of intellectual property rights protection would breach European law.
This decision comes in the form of a ruling in the case of Scarlet Extended v SABAM.
The dispute stems from 2004: SABAM, a Belgian institution that manages the copyright of Belgian writers and composers demanded that the internet service provider Scarlet, a unit of the telecoms company Belgacom, install filters on its network that would make it impossible for its customers to send or receive electronic files containing a musical work in SABAM’s repertoire by means of peer-to-peer software.
This request was upheld by Brussels Court of First Instance. The internet service provider appealed and the case was referred to Court of Justice of the European Union.
The European Court of Justice has now ruled that the imposed measure of routinely monitoring all subscriber communications is contrary to European legislation and that it violates fundamental rights, in particular the right to privacy, freedom of communication and freedom of information. It also breaches Scarlet’s right to conduct business.
Welcoming the decision are privacy advocates, among them European Digital Rights or EDRI, an international non-profit organization for the defence and promotion of civil rights in the field of information- and communication technology, that hailed the ruling as protecting the openness of the Internet. “The alternative would have been a decision which would ultimately have put all European networks under permanent surveillance and filtering. This would have had major negative consequences for both fundamental rights and the online economy in Europe”, warns EDRI.
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