Europe court rules ISPs can’t be forced to monitor piracy traffic

Thursday, November 24th, 2011, will prove as a favorable win for peer-to-peer file sharing. The European Court of Justice ruled today in favor of file-sharing by stating that “E.U. 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.” In lamens terms, ISP service providers will not be forced to monitor their traffic to discover individuals that are downloading copyrighted materials.

Europe court rules ISPs can't be forced to monitor piracy traffic

This ruling comes on the heels of a lawsuit brought forward in 2004 by the the Société Belge des Auteurs, Compositeurs et Editeurs (Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers or SABAM for short). SABAM filed the complaint against the telecommunication company Scarlet, stating that the company was allowing its customers to download copyrighted files from its portfolio without their consent. SABAM sought that the courts rule that Scarlet had to track and monitor its customers to discover which individuals were committing piracy. This would have forced the ISP to craft a massive and complex filtering system to block all of its customers from gaining access to SABAM’s content and would have been a massive and expensive undertaking for the company.

The court ruled in favor of Scarlet due to charters and laws that were already set in place. The court stated that forcing the monitoring of customers would violate their freedom of privacy, which is laid out in the E.U. Charter of Fundamental Rights and is also covered and compatible with the E-Commerce Directive. The court also said that a system set in place by the ISP could also be prone to error and could cause lawful and legal parties to be blocked from accessing legitimate content, which is a violation of their freedom to gather information.

The CEO of SABAM, Christophe Depreter, said that the organization “Regretted the ruling” and that they “felt that an important door had been closed in the battle against piracy.” However, Depreter also made the statement that “other measures could be taken to prevent piracy and protect their members.”

In my personal opinion, the ECJ got this ruling right. You have to consider that it is not the ISP’s responsibility for how their customers use the internet. The only responsibility of the ISP is to “provide internet service.” Scrutinizing them in such a manner would be like blaming an auto maker because their customers are frequently speeding in their vehicles. The ISP is nothing more than the vessel and the lawsuit in that instance is very misguided. It should be ruled that it is the responsibility of website owners to stop piracy, not the rest of the internet.

What do you think? Is this court ruling wrong? Did they get it right? Let us know in the comments section below!