In a press-release yesterday, the European Court of Justice ruled that content owners cannot ask ISPs to filter out illegal content.
This doesn't, however, mean the revival of recently blocked usenet indexing site, Newzbin. The ruling only prevents ISPs from being required to implement general filtering schemes to monitor user traffic as this would violate the EU E-Commerce directive.
The case finds its roots from an appeal submitted by Belgian ISP, Scarlet, after it had been ordered by courts on behalf of music rights authorisation company, SABAM, to make it impossible for its customers to send or receive files containing music from SABAM's catalogue over peer-to-peer networks, employed by some of Scarlet's customer base.
The Court announced, seven years later, in response to Scarlet's appeal, that general filtering was in violation of Scarlet's right to conduct its business, as the implementation and maintenance of any such system would be both complex and costly; that IP addresses are protected personal data and that filtering involving the collection and identification of IP addresses was in violation of basic rights and; that general filtering systems might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, potentially blocking lawful communications, which is in violation of freedom of information directives.
The Court concluded that installation of "such a filtering system would not be respecting the requirement that a fair balance be struck between the right to intellectual property, on the one hand, and the freedom to conduct business, the right to protection of personal data and the right to receive or impart information, on the other." and that EU law takes precedence over any such injunctions on a national level.
We wonder what affect this ruling may have on the UK's Digital Economy Act, elements of which have now clearly been identified as illegal. No doubt this will provide fuel for the flames ISPs BT and TalkTalk have been lighting in UK courts as they continue to claim that the act is also in violation of the EU E-Commerce directive, though, according to TalkTalks' head of regulatory affairs "The idea of filtering was talked about in the UK but it came off the table some time ago. This judgement is effectively about an old issue," perhaps a good testament to the progress in UK ISPs are making in ongoing talks.