No Spying On The Pirates

Any European Union country planning on anti-piracy legislation that involves ISPs blocking users from illegal file-sharing needs to think again.

The EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, the Union’s highest court, ruled that Internet service providers can’t be made to filter traffic. It’s been ruled a breach of their customers’ privacy rights.

“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 EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said Nov. 24.

Belgian music rights group SABAM has spent the last seven years in a legal battle to force Belgacom-owned ISP Scarlet to install monitoring devices on its network and block any subscriber communications that involve copyright infringement.

SABAM had established that Scarlet’s users were downloading music from its catalogue through peer-to-peer file-sharing networks.

In June 2007, Belgium’s Court of First Instance ordered Scarlet to “make it impossible” for customers to violate copyright laws, but the ISP appealed the decision on the grounds that it would entail breaching customers’ privacy rights.

Last year the Belgian court hearing the appeal sought EU guidance on whether forcing an ISP to prevent illegal file sharing on its network was in line with the 27-nation bloc’s rules.

Immediately after the judgment, Belgacom said the ruling “underlines the importance of the neutrality of ISPs with regard to the transmission of information.”

It says that along with Scarlet it remains concerned about the problems of illegal downloading, but the fight against it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of the ISPs.

The court also ruled that intellectual property owners can seek an injunction against companies such as ISPs whose services are used to breach their rights, but an injunction forcing them to monitor all electronic communications wouldn’t be allowed.

It said such monitoring would set an unfair balance between intellectual property rights and an ISP’s “freedom to conduct its business.”

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry says the ruling doesn’t affect the way it cooperates with ISPs, including graduated response and blocking rogue websites.

It may, however, impact on the recent court orders that are forcing British Telecom to filter out The Pirate Bay and Newzbin.