European Court Rejects Plea to Turn Social Nets Into Copyright Police

The European Union Court of Justice announced Thursday it has rejected a call for Internet platforms to filter and block unauthorized copyrighted material. The suit was brought by SABAM, a Belgian association that represents owners of musical works, against Netlog, an online social networking platform that lets users share content through profiles.

SABAM objected that Netlog users share copyrighted material without permission. However, Netlog is not in violation of EU law when it acts as a hosting service and allows users to store information, said the Court of Justice.

In 2009, SABAM petitioned the court to order Netlog to immediately cease making copyrighted musical or audiovisual works available or be fined. Netlog countered that granting SABAM’s request for an injunction would force Netlog to monitor its users, which is prohibited by the E-Commerce Directive.

SABAM was not surprised by the ruling, it said in a statement. The organization intends to find alternative legal measures to protect its authors and their works.

Preserving Internet Freedom in Europe

Netlog has not been infringing on copyright laws, and neither have its users, the social network insisted, and the court ruled in favor of protecting Internet freedom.

“We think this is great news for the openness and neutrality that has made the Internet such a success,” Netlog spokesperson Lorenz Bogaert told the E-Commerce Times. “The guaranteed protection of fundamental rights for all Europeans is what makes this a great place to work and live.”

With its ruling, the court upheld entrepreneurial freedom to create significant new companies, he said.

“We don’t want to live in a society which makes it impossible for two young Europeans to create the next YouTube, Netlog or Google,” Bogaert continued. “We do not support piracy at all, and we take adequate measures when we notice a user infringing copyright laws.”

SABAM’s other issues with the law are not related to Netlog, he noted.

“As you know, it was also announced today that SABAM is being prosecuted for fraud, falsification of financial statements, abuse of trust, etc., by the Belgian Criminal Court,” he pointed out. “I would like emphasize that this has nothing to do with the Sabam vs. Netlog case.”

Social Networks Can’t Be Cops

The SABAM suit attempted to put the responsibility of identifying copyright infringement in the hands of the social network provider.

“Requiring service providers to enforce laws for services that cross state borders is onerous, and these services aren’t really law enforcement agencies,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told the E-Commerce Times.

“This would be like requiring a car company to put in place technology to ensure people didn’t break traffic laws, or folks that make cameras to install technology to make sure the cameras weren’t used to take illegal pictures,” he remarked.

Who Is Responsible?

If social networks were required to police their users, it would pose major technical and financial challenges.

“Frankly, this is the only sensible ruling,” Steven Savage, technology project manager and Geek 2.0 blogger, told the E-Commerce Times.

“Literally, the lawsuit is about making people into piracy cops by taking an approach of suspecting everyone,” he said. “It’s an undue technical and financial burden on the companies, as well as ridiculous policy.”

Control over copyrights on the Internet has been difficult for rights-holders.

“Any place people congregate, they’re going to exchange information, goods, services and gossip,” said Savage. “Some of this is going to be illegal. That’s the way it goes.”

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