Commentary

Social Networks Don't Have to Install Filters for Pirated Material, EU Court Rules

Anti-piracy lobbyists received another setback (and social network sites another victory) in the form of a European Union court ruling that social networks aren’t obliged to install filters to prevent users from illegally sharing pirated music and media content.

 

The ruling by the top EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg read in part: “The owner of an online social network cannot be obliged to install a general filtering system, covering all its users, in order to prevent the unlawful use of musical and audio-visual work.”

 

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Justifying its ruling, the court stated that general filters might jeopardize the privacy of personal data and impinge on the ability of users to share non-copyrighted information. The ruling was delivered in response to a legal complaint brought by SABAM, a Belgian company which handles licensing and copyright protection for authors, musicians, and music publishers; SABAM had lodged the complaint -- including the demand for general filters -- against a Dutch social networking Web site, Netlog NV, which it accused of allowing users to share pirated copyrighted material.

 

This is the second legal defeat for SABAM, which earlier brought a legal action attempting to force Internet service providers to install similar anti-piracy filters. By the same token the ruling doesn’t prevent content owners, license managers and copyright protection companies from bringing more limited, ad hoc complaints seeking to force social networks to remove specific pieces of copyrighted content in the future.

 

The ruling comes not long after the demise of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect-IP Act (PIPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, respectively, following a backlash in public opinion fueled by high-visibility protests by Wikipedia, Google, and others. Meanwhile a similar piece of proposed EU legislation, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, has run into heavy opposition in Europe, and also looks likely to go down to defeat.

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