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17th Feb 2019

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EU court opinion rejects revealing identity of music pirates

  • Personal internet data can be with held in civil court cases (Photo: EUobserver)

Internet service providers (ISPs) are not obliged to hand over information on people suspected of illegally sharing music and other copyright material online, an advisor to the EU's highest court has said.

The advisor to the European Court of Justice (EJC), advocate general Juliane Kokott, said on Wednesday (18 July) that according to EU law, member states are allowed to 'exclude' revealing personal data on internet traffic in civil cases – unlike criminal cases where such compliance would be required.

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The case was brought by a Spanish music and audiovisual association – Promusicae - after telecoms and internet provider Telefonica refused to hand over names and addresses linked to computers, which the music association believed used peer-to-peer file sharing tool KaZaA to illegally distribute copyrighted songs.

Promusicae wanted the personal data so that it could start taking legal action against the file sharers, but Telefonica claimed that it could only turn over such information as part of a criminal prosecution or in matters of public security and national defence.

A Spanish court hearing the case referred the issue to the ECJ for guidance on how to interpret EU law on the subject and Ms Kokott's legal opinion is the advice for the ECJ judges who will eventually rule on a recommendation for the Spanish court to take.

The final court decision is expected later this year. Once it comes out, it could form the basis for similar decisions throughout the 27-member EU bloc.

In Germany, however, criminal lawsuits are often brought to reveal the identity of suspected file sharers, who will then face an additional civil lawsuit once their identity is known.

The German branch of the international music industry federation IFPI has already completed over 20,000 such cases since 2004, according to the head of the branch Peter Zombik.

The opinion comes only days after the Swedish Justice Department proposed that copyright, patent and trade-mark owners should be able to request a court to force ISPs to give out the identity of internet users who have infringed their rights.

A Belgian court has in the meantime ruled that one of its national internet service providers must install a filter to prevent its internet users from illegally downloading music and the UK may also act similarly on ISPs by the end of the year.

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