The European Court of Justice (ECJ) [official website] ruled [press release, PDF] on Thursday that Internet service providers (ISPs) cannot be required by law to monitor their customers' activities as an attempt to combat illegal sharing of copyrighted material. The court's ruling comes after a lower court ordered an Internet provider, Scarlet [official website], to make it impossible for its users to send or receive any file containing musical work. Scarlet appealed, citing that the lower court's decision violated both the E-Commerce directive [text, PDF] and fundamental rights. The court agreed with Scarlet's argument:
In the present case, the injunction requiring the installation of a filtering system involves monitoring, in the interests of copyright holders, all electronic communications made through the network of the internet service provider concerned. That monitoring, moreover, is not limited in time. Such an injunction would thus result in a serious infringement of Scarlet's freedom to conduct its business as it would require Scarlet to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense. What is more, the effects of the injunction would not be limited to Scarlet, as the filtering system would also be liable to infringe the fundamental rights of its customers, namely their right to protection of their personal data and their right to receive or impart information, which are rights safeguarded by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.The ruling came as a setback to the Belgian management company SABAM [official website], but they responded in a press release [text, PDF] that "[i]f the Court has excluded general filtering, it has not ruled out any other measure. Consequently, SABAM shall take the time to thoroughly analyze some alternatives."
This is not the first time courts have been asked to rule on issues regarding the Internet, since its use has increased in recent years. The United Kingdom's High Court of Justice [official website] ruled [JURIST report] in July for the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) [corporate website], requiring Internet provider British Telecom (BT) [corporate website] to block access to a file-sharing website, Newzbin2 [official website]. The Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris [official website, in French] in October ordered [JURIST report] French Internet service providers to block access to Copwatch Nord Paris I-D-F, a website designed to allow civilians to post videos of alleged police misconduct. United States courts have also been asked to weigh in on legal issues concerning the Internet. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU) [advocacy website] in August filed a complaint [JURIST report] in federal court seeking to block a new Louisiana law that limits Internet use for registered sex offenders.