Tuesday, February 7, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

ISPs Don’t Have to Filter Content, EU Court Rules

(CN) - European Union countries cannot force Internet service providers to generally filter content, even content involving illegal downloads, the EU high court ruled. A Belgian artists' association sued the ISP Scarlet Extended in 2004 for allowing peer-to-peer sharing of copyright-protected music. A Belgian court ordered Scarlet to block file sharing of copyright works within six months or face a daily fine of about $3,500.

Scarlet argued that it was impossible to block such file sharing without affecting legitimate peer-to-peer traffic as well. Scarlet also complained that implementing such a requirement would be expensive.

The Court of Justice of the European Union said last week that it is not compatible with EU law to make any requirement that ISPs generally monitor network traffic for illegal downloads.

Such monitoring "would involve a systematic analysis of all content" on the network, such as personal data, and would violate rights to privacy, the court said.

The court also agreed that such a filter would unjustifiably block legal Web traffic and sympathized with ISPs as to the financial burden that implementation would involve.

Intellectual property rights should be protected, but there is nothing in the law "to suggest that that right is inviolable and must for that reason be absolutely protected," according to the Luxembourg-based tribunal.

The EU legal framework precludes any general monitoring of network traffic, the court concluded.

The wording of the ruling makes it likely to apply to all Internet traffic, and not only peer-to-peer traffic.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.