Bloomberg News

Belgacom Can’t Be Told to Block File Sharing, EU Court Says

November 25, 2011

(Updates with Belgacom comment in fifth paragraph.)

Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Belgacom SA’s Internet-service provider Scarlet can’t be forced by a national court to block users from illegally sharing music and video files, the European Union’s highest court said.

“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 in a statement after today’s ruling.

A Belgian court last year sought the EU tribunal’s guidance on whether forcing an ISP to stop illegal file sharing on its network is in line with the 27-nation bloc’s rules. Belgian music-copyright group Sabam, which represents authors and musicians, started the legal fight over the use of so-called peer-to-peer software for file sharing.

Belgacom, the largest telephone company in Belgium, won antitrust approval to acquire Scarlet in 2008. Scarlet is appealing a June 2007 Belgian court order to “make it impossible” for users to violate copyright laws, saying it would entail breaching customers’ privacy rights.

The ruling “underlines the importance of the neutrality of ISPs with regard to the transmission of information, and reiterates that the economic and legal responsibility in the fight against illegal downloading of protected works should not solely be delegated to ISPs,” Belgacom said in an e-mailed statement.

‘Illegal Downloading’

Belgacom and Scarlet “remain concerned about the problem of illegal downloading,” the companies said.

The EU’s top court in 2008 ruled in a case involving Telefonica SA’s Internet unit that ISPs may not have to reveal the identities of customers accused of illegal file sharing. The Belgian court said that ruling “was not sufficient” to settle Scarlet’s appeal.

The court today ruled that while intellectual property owners can seek an injunction against companies such as ISPs whose services are used to breach their rights, an injunction forcing an ISP to install a filtering system that monitors all electronic communications would not be possible.

It would result in “serious infringement of Scarlet’s freedom to conduct its business” which would not strike a fair balance between the right to intellectual property and company’s freedom to do business, the court said.

“This is an important ruling because it does clarify the situation and it is extremely consistent with our own interpretation,” said Chantal Hughes, a spokeswoman for the European Commission in Brussels.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said the ruling “does not affect the forms of ISP cooperation that IFPI advocates, including graduated response and the blocking of rogue websites, which are already being implemented in countries across Europe.”

Today’s case is: C-70/10, Scarlet Extended SA v. Societe Belge des auteurs, compositeurs et editeurs (SABAM).

--Editors: Peter Chapman, Christopher Scinta

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at sbodoni@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net


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