Belgium Says ISPs Must Protect Copyright

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mp3communism.pngA court in Belgium has ruled that an Internet Service Provider bears the responsibility for stopping illegal file-sharing on its network. Although the ruling was made in Belgium, it relies on the E.U. copyright directive and may set precedent for the entire Union according to IFPI, an organization that represents the recording industry world wide.

Belgian courts have sided strongly with copyright holder in the past as well. In February, they ordered Google to stop copying Belgian newspaper headlines into their news and search indexes.

The suit was brought by a group representing Belgian authors an composers (SABAM) against ISP Scarlet, formerly Tiscali. In 2004, the SABAM received an injuction against the ISP, which assigned an expert whose investigation provided 11 ways to prevent infringement across the network. The judge agreed and Scarlet has 6 months to enact anti-piracy measure or face fines of up to $4,300 per day.

However, although the ruling means Scarlet must prevent piracy, it doesn’t require monitoring all network traffic. The Register quotes a SABAM statement saying, “The solutions identified by the expert are ‘technical instruments’ that limit themselves to blocking or filtering certain information transmitted on the network of TISCALI (SCARLET). They do not constitute a general obligation to monitor the network.”

Similar suits have traditionally not proven successful in the US, because ISPs have been seen simply as “common carriers“, not responsible for the contents of the packages they deliver. This has lead to a game of cat and mouse between pirates and copyright holders, epitomized by companies like MediaDefender allegedly trying to track down and catch copyright violators. As a side note, MediaDefender says the alleged honey pot, MiiVi.com, was an R&D experiment and the scandal surrounding it was a “libelously fabricated story”.

Now copyright holders are again trying to go after the bottleneck for piracy, the networks themselves. Because filtering technologies no longer place as harsh a burden on content providers, the industry is in transition and expectations are changing. After a lawsuit by Viacom, YouTube has begun scrubbing their own network for copyrighted content. Recently, AT&T announced they are making plans to track copyright infringement on their network.

Copyright protection company Media Rights Technologies has tried to push companies into implementing anti-piracy measures on their networks. They recently requested a cease and desist order against Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and Real Networks alleging the companies are in violation of the DMCA because they are not implementing copyright protection on their systems, namely their own product. They’re also cheer leading their own bill, the “Perform Act”, through congress with the help of senators Feinstein (D), Graham (R), Biden (D) and Alexander.

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