Friday

23rd Jun 2017

EU court cool on copyright enforcement by private companies

  • The ruling could have a wide-reaching impact on efforts to get private companies to police the internet (Photo: Bombardier)

In an opinion with significant implications for ongoing EU discussions on how to deal with online copyright infringement and internet piracy, an EU advocate general on Thursday said a Belgian internet provider cannot be forced by a national court to block users from illegally sharing music.

Pedro Cruz Villalon of the European Court of Justice argued that ordering an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to filter and block electronic communications in a bid to protect copyright in principle "infringes fundamental rights".

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

In the opinion, normally endorsed in the final ruling by the court, the advocate general expressed concern about delegating legal responsibility for the fight against illegal downloading and suggested that any measure taken against internet users would be allowed "only if it were adopted on a national legal basis which was accessible, clear and predictable".

He also said that if an ISP installs a filtering system, this would breach the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights on data protection and privacy of communication grounds.

The case arose after a Belgian court last year asked the top EU court whether obliging an ISP - in this case Belgium's Scarlet - to act against illegal file sharing on its network contravened European rules. Belgian music-copyright group Sabam had originally tried to force the company to police its network for illicit downloading.

The opinion has implications for several areas of EU policy, with the European Commission later this year due to publish a much-anticipated overhaul of its intellectual property rights rules, as internet piracy and copyright infringement soars.

A policy tool it has increasingly considered in recent times is recruiting internet providers to help clamp down on illegal online activity.

"This raises major questions over the legality of a whole range of Commission proposals," Joe McNamee of European Digital Rights, an umbrella organisation for privacy and civil rights groups, told this website.

He cites "internet blocking, voluntary internet blocking, extra-judicial deletion of websites, the co-operation demanded of ISPs in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement as well as the Commission's funding of ISP policing projects," as areas affected by the opinion.

Similar questions have been elsewhere. Internet providers BT and TalkTalk in Britain are currently challenging a domestic law that they say would force them to police the internet. They are demanding legal clarity, particularly on whether the law breaches an individual's privacy.

Former music industry representative takes EU copyright post

Meanwhile, the commission has come under fire for appointing former music industry representative Maria Martin-Prat to be its head of copyright in the internal market directorate.

Formerly a director of legal affairs at the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the record company association, Martin-Prat will oversee the review intellectual property rights rules.

The commission, also working on proposals on collective rights management (the proposals will update rules on how rights societies collect royalties for their authors) and pan-European licensing, has come under intense lobbying from the music industry.

This is why, argue some MEPs, the former industry representative should not have been put in the post.

"[The appointment] leads to a lot of suspicion among stakeholders about the objectivity of the Commission, in the already sensitive discussions on intellectual property rights," Dutch Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake, told EUobserver.

"To me, a fair and balanced approach means that consumers can access music and films and artists are remunerated in a fair manner," she said. Both she and her Swedish pirate party colleague Christian Engström have written to the commission asking for answers.

A commission internal market spokesperson pointed out that it is "almost seven years since Maria [Martin-Prat] worked in the industry so she has also had a very long "cooling off period"."

"It is fully normal for civil servants to have some experience of the area they are responsible for," added the spokesperson.

Indie group Rökkurró on online copyright infringement

EUOBSERVER / BOTANIQUE CONCERT HALL / BRUSSELS (16 April 2011) Indie band Rökkurró from Iceland talk about music pirating and fees for artists just after their concert in Botanique in Brussels

Watch more EUobserver videos here

Focus

EU extends music copyright protection to 70 years

Ageing rock stars will benefit from music royalties for a longer period of time under a new rule adopted on Monday by the ministers of EU affairs, extending the current copyright protection from 50 to 70 years.

EU extends sanctions on Russia

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia hadn't done enough to implement the so-called Minsk peace process, a condition for lifting the sanctions.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement