News24

Social networks can't be forced to filter

2012-02-16 18:38

Luxembourg - Social networking websites cannot be forced to install filters preventing users from illegally sharing music and videos protected by copyright, the European Union's top court said on Thursday.

The EU Court of Justice ruled that such an obligation to monitor content would go against EU rules that ensure a "fair balance" between protecting copyright and defending personal data and the freedom to conduct business.

"The owner of an online social network cannot be obliged to install a general filtering system, covering all its users, in order to prevent the unlawful use of musical and audio-visual work," the court said in a statement.

The case stemmed from a complaint filed by Sabam, a Belgian management company responsible for authorising the use of music of authors, composers and editors, against Netlog, a website based in Flanders.

Sabam charged that Netlog enables users to post music and videos in Sabam's repertoire without the company's consent and without the website paying any fee.

The management company sought an injunction from a Belgian court to force Netlog to stop allowing users to post such material and pay a €1 000 penalty for each day it delays complying with the order.

Netlog countered that such an order would amount to imposing a general obligation to monitor content in violation of the EU's e-commerce directive. The Luxembourg-based top court sided with Netlog.

The EU Court of Justice issued a similar ruling in November, rejecting Sabam's bid to secure an injunction against internet service provider Scarlet Extended.

The judges ruled that a national court cannot impose an injunction ordering an internet provider to install a filtering system for all electronic communications, saying it is too expensive for the company and could infringe on people's fundamental rights.

The latest decision is another defeat for backers of web filters, including artists and the entertainment industry, who are fighting to protect their work from circulating freely on the internet.