ISPs cannot be legally obliged to monitor their customers' electronic communications and block the unauthorised transmission of copyrighted content, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled, in a landmark decision that will come as a blow to rights holders.
The ruling came in the Scarlet Extended case, which began life in the Belgian courts in 2004 and was escalated to the ECJ.
Belgian rights holders group SABAM was looking to impose content filtering requirements on ISP Scarlet to prevent illegal downloading and distribution in the country.
"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 court ruled on Thursday.
Jérémie Zimmermann, co-founder of rights group La Quadrature du Net, welcomed the news, arguing that it is a blow for a European Commission that has until now "implicitly supported the broad filtering schemes" promoted by the creative industries.
"As the war on culture sharing is fiercer than ever, this ECJ ruling comes at a timely moment. The ruling stresses once again that instead of keeping on pushing for more repression, EU policy makers should work towards a much-needed reform of copyright that would protect citizens' freedoms," he added.
"Rejecting ACTA and other extremist measures imposed in the name of copyright would be a first step."
Robin Fry, copyright expert at law firm DAC Beachcroft LLP, also welcomed the news.
"For too long, ISPs, search engines and online marketplaces have been
shunted down the track of having to be responsible for everything that's
seen or done using their systems," he told V3.
"A freedom to conduct business argument will certainly be deployed in many cases from now on where intellectual property rights owners choose to
bring claims against the messenger rather than the infringer."
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