EU High Court will not force website to filter

Category: WTO Sub-category: Intellectual Property
Document type: case study

20-Feb-2012 | 12:30 IST | Edited by: Sharmila Maitra

The European Court of Justice has ruled that social networks don't have to act as copyright cops for the entertainment industry, pro-actively filtering for infringing content. The ruling came on 16.2.2012.

In 2009, SABAM had petitioned the court to order Netlog to immediately cease making copyrighted musical or audiovisual works available or be fined. Netlog countered by saying that granting SABAM's request for an injunction would force Netlog to monitor its users, which is prohibited by the E-Commerce Directive.

SABAM has been trying to coerce various sites, including the locally-large social network Netlog, into installing a monitoring system that would automatically detect infringements of copyright. Netlog protested at having to install and maintain a costly computer system at its own expense for the benefit of another industry entirely.

The EU's General Court ruled that to filter information would fall foul of existing EU laws. It found that such a move failed to strike a fair balance between the right to enforce intellectual property by its creators on the one hand and the freedom to conduct business in the online world on the other.

However, the court also added that filtering system will also infringe the fundamental rights of its service users namely their right to protection of their personal data and their freedom to receive or impart information.

The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, welcomed the ruling, "particularly the confirmation of the prohibition ... imposing a general obligation of monitoring on online intermediaries". It added that the fresh enforcement of intellectual property rights legislation will be initiated in coming months. The ruling follows protests across Europe against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which, like the Stop Online Piracy Act in the US, had been intended to combat piracy - but which many technologists fear is too heavy handed.

 However, other popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google are yet to comment on the ruling.

SABAM has lost a similar case in late 2011 when it tried to convince a local ISP, Scarlet to do the same thing. The ruling went down almost identical lines there, arguing that a requirement to constantly monitor users infringes on too many other rights, making this judgment not entirely unanticipated.

SABAM is a Belgian society for authors and publishers.

Netlog is an online platform where users can keep in touch with and extend their social network. It is developed by Massive Media NV, based in Ghent, Belgium. Netlog is currently available in 40 languages and has more than 95 million members throughout Europe, and this number increases every day.