A Belgian court decision may help set a precedent in Europe over illegal file-sharing, as it orders Belgium's third largest ISP to filter copyright infringing material.
Scarlet, formerly part of Tiscali, was hit by the decision on June 29th in the case brought by the Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (SABAM). Expert opinion was sought in 2004 as the court was not sufficiently informed about the technical feasibility of how to put an end to the infringements by Tiscali/Scarlet customers. The expert recommended 11 solutions, 7 of which were suitably applicable to Tiscali/Scarlet. The court granted a six month period to implement a solution that would block or filter the copyright infringing material, with fines if they do not meet this schedule. Tiscali/Scarlet said it may appeal the ruling.
The SABAM press release in relation to the Tiscali/Scarlet case is available here (PDF).
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) warmly welcomed the decision.
"This is an extremely significant ruling which bears out exactly what we have been saying for the last two years - that the internet's gatekeepers, the ISPs, have a responsibility to help control copyright-infringing traffic on their networks. The court has confirmed that the ISPs have both a legal responsibility and the technical means to tackle piracy. This is a decision that we hope will set the mould for government policy and for courts in other countries in Europe and around the world."John Kennedy, IFPI Chairman and CEO
The IFPI estimates that around 20 billion illegal files were shared on P2P networks in 2006 which outnumbered legal music downloads by a factor of 20. This news comes as music sales are at the lowest recorded since records began, with CD sales in the US down 20% in the first half of this year. The move to digital downloads only partially offsets the decline.
Other industry members are taking action into their own hands. AT&T Inc., the largest communications company in the United States, announced in June that it was working with Hollywood studios and recording companies to develop anti-piracy technology to keep pirated material off its network. AT&T is the largest major Internet carrier to announce such plans.
David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party, recently addressed the British Phonographic Industry. In his speech, he claimed that Internet Service Providers are the "gatekeepers of the Internet" and should be doing more to help prevent illegal music downloads, acting with a similar stance to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). The IWF works in partnership with the Government and Industry to minimise the availability of child abuse images, criminally obscene and incitement to racial hatred content. ISPA, the Internet Service Providers Association which represents ISPs in the UK, believes that this should be handled by the courts and told The Register it would be writing to the Conservative leader to set out its position.
The 2002 E-Commerce Regulations state that ISPs are 'mere conduits' of information and should bear no liability for illegal file sharing that is not hosted on its servers. If the Conservatives want to hold a stance that the ISPs should block all this material, then a similar analogy to this would be to hold the Highways Agency responsible for filtering or blocking all illegal goods that are transported over their roads.
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