A Belgian court has ruled that an ISP, Scarlet (formerly part of Tiscali), is responsible for illegal file-sharing on its network. The provider has been given six months to introduce measures that block or filter copyright-infringing material on P2P systems.
The shock ruling, which has naturally been welcomed by representatives from the music industry, could have ramifications for ISP's around Europe, including the UK:
Chairman and CEO of The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, John Kennedy, said: "The court has confirmed that the ISPs have both a legal responsibility and the technical means to tackle piracy. The internet's gatekeepers, the ISPs, have a responsibility to help control copyright-infringing traffic on their networks.".
Though the decision will no doubt be appealed, it has already caused a great deal of concern among ISP's. Both the European Union and ISPA UK identify that providers are mere conduits of information and can not be held liable, though it is often still expected that an ISP remove illegal content when identified.
It’s certainly true that ISP’s have a degree of legal responsibility, yet the ruling appears to go much further by suggesting that its both possible to filter copyright-infringing material on P2P systems and or block it entirely.
We can’t see how a provider could do this without prior knowledge of the illegal content as File-Sharing itself forms a fundamental part of the Internet, with P2P specifically being used for many legitimate services too. Though there are new systems designed to identify such media, it does risk putting control of what we see in the hands of a commercial company as opposed to the police or governments.
The case was brought to court by Belgian music copyright group SABAM, which has fought a three year long fight with Scarlet over the matter.
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