European Court Rules Social Networks Will Not Have To Hunt Pirates

Max ‘Beast from the East’ Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope.

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The European Court Of Justice has ruled against tough anti-piracy controls, stating that it would affect freedom of speech

Social networking websites will not be required to install filters to prevent illegal file-sharing, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

In the case of Sabam versus Netlog, the court found that forcing websites like Facebook to police their users’ activities would breach the right to protection of personal data and the freedom to receive or impart information.

Freedom of speech

Sabam, a Belgian music rights management company similar to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), took Netlog, an online social networking platform, to court in 2009 for allowing its users to share music and video clips on its website.

Sabam asked the Court of First Instance of Brussels to order Netlog to block the sharing of musical or audio-visual works from its catalogue, and to pay a penalty of €1000 (£830) for each day of delay in complying with that order. Netlog argued that this would go against the EU e-Commerce Directive.

The case was referred to the ECJ, which found that to block illegal file-sharing, Netlog first had to monitor all of the communications between all of its users. This could be potentially harmful to the freedom of information. Since the costly filtering operation would be conducted at Netlog’s expense, it would also impair the company’s right to conduct business.

Last year, Sabam lost a similar case against Belgian ISP Scarlet Extended SA.

“The European Court appears to have ruled out the idea that operators of social network sites and ISPs can be forced – at their own expense – to impose blanket monitoring and filtering aimed at stopping infringements,” commented Michael Gardner, head of the Intellectual Property practice at law firm Wedlake Bell. “The ruling doesn’t stop rights owners seeking more-limited injunctions against social networking sites or ISPs, but they will have to be more ‘proportionate’ in scope and effect.”