European internet service providers (ISPs) may soon be forced to block access to websites hosting copyright-infringing material, following landmark advice from an EU legal expert.
EU advocate general Pedro Cruz Villalón has said it would be lawful for courts to issue injunctions to ISPs, forcing them to block access to copyrighted material. ISPs are considered to be intermediaries in the accessing of illegal material and will be asked to only target specific pages on websites that contain copyrighted content.
"The internet provider of the user of a website which infringes copyright is also to be regarded as an intermediary whose services are used by a third party – that is the operator of the website - to infringe copyright and therefore also as a person against whom an injunction can be granted," he wrote.
But content owners, such as movie studios and record labels, will still have to take all measures possible to contact the infringing websites directly before handing the matter over to the courts and ISPs.
The ruling follows a case in the Austrian courts between service provider UPC Telekabel Wien and movie production firms Constantin Film Verleih and Wega Filmproduktionsgesellschaft.
The two film companies had asked UPC to block access to movie-streaming website Kino.to, but the Austrian Supreme Court decided to take the matter to the European courts to clarify whether they had the power to put a block into force.
EU courts generally follow the advice of the advocate general, so this ruling will set the bar for all future cases. It is unlikely to have a huge impact in the UK, however, as ISPs generally bow to the wishes of the High Court when asked to block websites containing copyrighted material.
Search engines such as Google and Bing also find themselves being held responsible for the removal of copyright-infringing links, with copyright holders putting in hundreds of thousands of requests per day to remove specific pages from Google search results.
In the first half of 2013, Google alone had removed more than 100 million links from its indexes following takedown requests.
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