Internet providers don't have to name downloaders, says EU court
EU member states are not required to force internet service providers to hand over the names of file-sharers who distribute copyright material, Europe's top court ruled today (29 January).
The European Court of Justice agreed with Spanish internet service provider (ISP) Telefonica that under Spanish law based on EU legislation, the telco does not have to disclose the personal data of internet subscribers in civil cases.
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"Community law does not require the member states, in order to ensure the effective protection of copyright, to lay down an obligation to disclose personal data in the context of civil proceedings," read the ruling.
The ECJ decision, ruling on a complaint against Telefonica from Promusicae, the Spanish record industry trade association, will come as something of a set-back to the major European and international music companies.
Only three days ago (25 January), the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the global record industry trade association, issued a report calling on the EU to follow the lead of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who last November sponsored an initiative to force internet service providers to disconnect customers who illegally download music.
IPFI pointed out that the judgement does not preclude the possibility for member states to continue to require disclosure of data in civil proceedings.
John Kennedy, IFPI Chairman & CEO, put on a brave face: "Copyright theft on the internet is the single biggest obstacle to the growth of the music business today. The European Court has confirmed the need to have effective tools to tackle piracy.
"The judgment means that music rights owners can still take civil actions to enforce their rights, and it has sent out a clear signal."
"Intellectual property rights can neither be ignored nor neglected," he added.
The court noted that there are a number of community directives that require member states, "especially in the information society," to ensure the protection of intellectual property.
However, the court warned that the protection of such property should not come at the expense of the protection of personal data.