The European Court of Justice ruling that EU countries need not disclose the identities of suspected file-swappers in the course of civil lawsuits is a setback in the music industry’s campaign against illegal file-sharing.
"The law does not preclude the possibility for the [individual] member states of laying down an obligation to disclose personal data in the context of civil proceedings," was IFPI chairman and chief exec John Kennedy’s reaction, although the Luxembourg court’s decision will hamper his organisation’s efforts to find a pan-European solution to Internet piracy.
The ruling came as a result of a case in which the ECT found in favour of Spanish telecom giant Telefonica, which argued that EU rules stipulate only that file-swapper identities must be disclosed in criminal proceedings.
Spanish recording industry trade group Promusicae was seeking the identities of Telefonica broadband subscribers suspected of copyright infringement on the Kazaa file-sharing network.
The law doesn’t, as Kennedy points out, preclude individual states from framing their own legislation. The ECJ judgment is saying community law doesn’t lay down an obligation to disclose personal data in the context of civil proceedings.
It doesn’t refer to criminal proceedings, although criminal proceedings are more expensive to pursue and usually require a higher burden of proof.
The ECJ is the highest court in the EU. It has the ultimate say on matters of EU law in order to ensure equal application across the various member states.