EU Court of Justice rules against censorship and forcing ISP’s to block file sharing

Today the European Union’s highest court, the Court of Justice based in Luxemburg has made a historic ruling against allowing censorship in the name of copyright protection as it violated fundamental rights. The ruling goes against and opposes a recent Belgium national court’s decision to force the largest ISP in Belgium Belgacom SA to forcibly block users from illegally sharing music and video files and blocking access to sites and services that facilitate such sharing in the Scarlet Extended case.

The ruling in case C-70/10 Scarlet Extended SA v Société belge des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs SCRL (SABAM) stated that “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.”

This ruling comes as a result of a Belgian court’s decision last year to seek a European wide clarification on whether forcing national ISP’s to block access to file sharing sites and services on their networks was permissible and in line within the wider European Union’s legal fundamental communication rights. This action to seek a higher courts’ guidance came as a direct result of SABAM (essentially Belgium’s equivalent of the RIAA/MPAA) mounting pressure and initiating several legal battles in Belgium’s national courts over the past few years, including having rulings in their favor which forced ISP’s to block peer-to-peer file sharing and access to sites and services that facilitate it.

Belgacom SA being the largest telephone company in Belgium had recently become the largest ISP in Belgium after its approval by antitrust boards in its take over of Scarlet ISP back in 2008. This ruling goes in favor of Scarlet’s appeal against a 2007 Belgium court order to “make it impossible” for users to violate copyright laws, which it argued would be a complete breach of its customers personal privacy with which the CVIRA agrees.

Some may also remember back in 2008 when the EU’s top court ruled in a case involving Telefonica SA’s (Spains largest telcom provider) that ISPs should not be required to reveal the identities of customers accused of illegal file sharing. At the time the Belgian court said that ruling “was not sufficient” to settle Scarlet’s appeal and so it will be interesting to hear the Belgium courts reaction over the coming days to this latest ruling from the EU Court of Justice which apparently seems to make things pretty clear.

This latest ruling from the ECJ of course comes at a time of all-out offensive in the war against data sharing online, this decision would seem to imply that the draconian censorship measures continuously being lobbied and requested by the entertainment industry are totally disproportionate in their fight against individuals for copyright protection of their licensed and owned works.

One would hope this will mean that policy-makers across the European Union will be forced to take this decision into account and review their staunch support for repressive laws such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), and instead engage in a productive and much needed reform of copyright law which actually respects individual fundamental rights such as freedom of communication and privacy.

VIDEO SOUNDBITE (in French) by Koen Lenaerts, Judge of the ECJ, reading the judgment in the case C-70/10 Scarlet Extended SA v Société belge des auteurs, compositeurs et éditeurs SCRL (SABAM).

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