The European Court of Justice has ruled that a social network cannot be made to install an anti-piracy filtering system.The judgment comes after SABAM, a Belgian institution that manages the copyright of Belgian writers and composers wanted Netlog, a Belgian social networking website with some 94 million registered international users, to install a filtering system in order to prevent the unlawful use of musical and audio-visual work by its users.
Illegal sharing of works vs filtering of content
On Netlog registered members can create their own web pages, extend their social networks, publish their music playlists, share videos, post blogs and join groups. According to SABAM, Netlog profiles also enable users to share musical and audio-visual works in SABAM’s repertoire, making them available to other users of the Netlog network without SABAM’s permission and without Netlog paying a fee.
Consequently, in 2009, SABAM asked a Belgian court to prevent Netlog from making works from SABAM’s repertoire available, asking the court to impose a EUR 1,000 fine for every day the social network failed to do so.
In reaction Netlog argued that SABAM’s request would force it to filter its content and, in doing so, monitor its users, something that is in direct breach of the EU E-Commerce Directive.
The case was referred to the European Court of Justice that was to decide on the legality of the requested filtering system.
Filter would infringe the rights of Netlog users
The European Court of Justice has now ruled that installing the type of filter that SABAM demanded would breach Netlog’s freedom to conduct its business “since it would require Netlog to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense”.
More importantly, the Court believes that the injunction would “infringe the fundamental rights of [Netlog’s] service users – namely their right to protection of their personal data and their freedom to receive or impart information – which are rights safeguarded by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.”