The European Court of Justice has ruled that that ISPs across Europe can be forced to block file sharing sites.
After Austrian ISP UPC Telekabel Wien challenged a blocking order from its national court, the ECJ ruled that rights holders can ask an ISP to block sites that provide free unlicensed access to copyrighted content.
In the UK, the High Court has issued orders to the biggest ISPs – BT, Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and EE – legally forcing them to block access to file sharing sites like The Pirate Bay, EZTV and most recently Megashare.
The ECJ’s decision was instigated when Constantin Film Verleih – which owns rights to films including Pandorum and The White Ribbon – sought an order from an Austrian court for UPC to block access to the file-sharing site kino.to.
UPC challenged the Austrian court’s powers to make the orders under European copyright law and took the fight to the ECJ, which is Europe’s highest court, claiming an ISP shouldn’t be forced to intervene between a user and a website.
The ECJ’s decision means that any ISP which does not respond to a court order is in effect breaking the law:
“The Court replies to the Oberster Gerichtshof [Austria’s Supreme Court] that a person who makes protected subject-matter available to the public on a website without the agreement of the right holder is using the services of the business which provides internet access to persons accessing that subject-matter.
“Thus, an ISP, such as UPC Telekabel, which allows its customers to access protected subject-matter made available to the public on the internet by a third party is an intermediary whose services are used to infringe a copyright.”
The ECJ also states that rights holders seeking court orders do not need to find proof that subscribers have been downloading protected content, merely that it’s possible for an ISP’s customers to access a pirate site.
The decision also rules that it is up to national courts have the right to interpret European copyright law and pass on orders like this.
UPC Telekabel argued that setting up site blocks were not only costly but ineffective – the UK’s Digital Economy Act rules that small ISPs with less than 400,000 customers are currently exempt from having to block pirate sites.
Image: Keith Burtis/Flickr