EU rules ISPs can't be forced to filter pirated content

ISPs shouldn't be made to monitor their traffic in order to spot IP infringements, the EU has ruled.

legal hammer

An EU court has ruled that ISPs can't be forced to monitor network traffic to look for copyright infringement.

The ruling regards a Belgian case, where rights holder SABAM won a local court order forcing ISP Scarlet to block pirates from downloading its content. Scarlet argued that would require network-level monitoring of all its customers, which it said was against EU law.

It is true that the protection of the right to intellectual property is enshrined in the Chater of Fundamental Rights of the EU. There is, however, nothing whatsoever in the wording of the Charter or in the court's case-law to suggest that that right is inviolable and must for that reason be absolutely protected.

The Court of Justice of the European Union agreed with the ISP. While rights holders can apply for injunctions against ISPs to block specific sites, under EU law national courts aren't allowed to force ISPs to monitor traffic.

"It is true that the protection of the right to intellectual property is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU," the court said in a statement. "There is, however, nothing whatsoever in the wording of the Charter or in the court's case-law to suggest that that right is inviolable and must for that reason be absolutely protected."

The court pointed out that such monitoring would not only infringe the rights of the ISP's customers, but would be expensive for Scarlet to run, hurting its business. It ruled that EU law "precludes an injunction made against an internet service provider requiring it to install a system for filtering all electronic communications passing via its services which applies indiscriminately to all its customers, as a preventive measure, exclusively at its expense, and for an unlimited period."

The decision comes at a key point in the online piracy battle. Last month, BT was forced to block downloading site Newzbin, while US politicians are debating tougher anti-piracy legislation. The EU, meanwhile, countered that current efforts were a waste of money.

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