ECJ rules site blocking unlawful

Good news for net freedom advocates, but will it have any bearing on SOPA across the pond?
Kerry Butters

November 25, 2011

Anti-censorship supporters will be celebrating today after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that EU courts do not have the right to order ISPs to block copyright infringing websites.

The decision came on Thursday, following a long-running case in Belgium involving ISP Scarlet and right-holders Sabam, which has rocked on since 2004.

“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 ECJ said in a statement.

The case was brought up before Brussels Court of Appeal who requested advice from the ECJ, as it was thought that the original ruling could be unlawful under EU laws surrounding privacy and freedom of information.

The ECJ agreed and decided that the order “gave too much weight to the right to intellectual property rights,” according to a report by ZDNet.

“It is true that the protection of the right to intellectual property is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU,” the ECJ continued.

“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 news will be welcomed by advocates of the free internet the world over and interested parties in the US will be wondering if it can be applied to the controversial SOPA, a bill which has elicited a huge amount of interest worldwide.

SOPA is being publicly opposed by some of the biggest names on the internet, such as Google, Yahoo, Mozilla, eBay and Twitter.

Yahoo have quit the US Chamber of Commerce in protest and it is thought that Google are threatening to follow suit.

In the UK, the MPA recently won their case to force BT to block file sharing site Newzbin2 and are currently attempting to enforce the same measures on BSkyB and Virgin Media.

However, an unfazed Newzbin2 said that they had counter-measures in place and had developed a standalone client that would allow their users to continue file sharing as usual. They, and other P2P sites such as Pirate Bay also pointed out that their sites infringe on nothing as content is not stored on their servers, but simply shared between their users.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out following the ruling both in Britain and across the water.

Earlier this week the Open Rights Group published its findings on the availability of film online.

It was found that excluding iTunes, consumers were left with the equivalent of “digital empty shelves” when it came to finding films online.

A lot of the time, customers are also finding that they are paying more for streaming films online than they would for buying a DVD.

Peter Bradwell, a campaigner at the Open Rights Group, said: “There are obvious deficiencies in the licensing for cultural goods online. This is crippling the market just as consumers are increasingly showing a desire to watch film in new ways.”

“Consumers are moving online faster than the industry whose films they want to watch. Understanding why these markets are so unhealthy must be a key focus for policy makers.”

The sensible thing for the movie industry to do would be to introduce services which people are willing to pay for.

However, currently they seem more interested in pursuing property infringements through the courts, rather than investing the considerable funds they are spending in more worthwhile projects such as streaming services.


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