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19th Jan 2020

Internet providers can be forced to block access to illegal downloads, rules EU Court

EU-based internet service providers can be ordered to block customers’ access to a copyright-infringing website, following a ruling on Thursday (27 March) by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The judgement follows a dispute between Austrian Internet provider Telekabel Wien and two film companies, based in Germany and Austria, over whether the internet service provider (ISP) should be forced to prevent its customers from accessing film download site kino.to, a Tonga-based website that received nearly 4 million visitors a day.

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  • The ruling strengthens the ability of music and other creative industries to tackle piracy (Photo: Cyrus Farivar)

Although the Austrian courts stated that Telekabel should block access to the site - which was closed down in 2011 following police action - Telekabel argued that blocking measures could be evaded by downloaders and would be "excessively costly".

The EU's copyright directive gives rights holders the power to request an injunction against intermediaries who provide services that can be used to breach copyright.

Despite its protestations, the EU's top court found that, as an internet provider allowing its customers to view copyrighted films and music, Telakabel could be classified as an intermediary.

"The Court notes, in that regard, that the directive, which seeks to guarantee a high level of protection of rights holders, does not require a specific relationship between the person infringing copyright and the intermediary against whom an injunction may be issued," it said.

"Internet users and also, indeed, the ISP must be able to assert their rights," the Court added.

The UK and Ireland are among a handful of countries already taking action to block access to sites such as Swedish-based download site Pirate Bay, through ISPs.

In a statement, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), a music industry lobby group welcomed the ruling which it said confirmed that "copyright is itself a fundamental right requiring protection."

"The decision by the ECJ today confirming that website blocking does not infringe fundamental rights in the EU is an important clarification that will strengthen the ability of music and other creative industries to tackle piracy," IFPI added.

The ECJ ruling marks a volte face from a ruling by the same court in 2011 which found that Belgian internet provider Belgacom Scarlet, could not be forced by a national court to block users from illegally sharing music and video files.

Brussels examines where to put marker on copyright enforcement

With Brussels set to publish proposals on intellectual property rights later this year, debate on how to tackle internet piracy and ensure copyright protection has reached fever pitch. Rasmus Stolberg from the award-winning Danish band Efterklang asks if there is any justification for not paying for the work of artists.

Read more in the EUobserver April FOCUS on Digital Agenda.

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