The European Union’s highest court issued a key legal ruling overturning a Belgian law that would have required Internet service providers to monitor all Internet traffic passing through their systems with the goal of protecting copyright holders’ rights.  In a closely watched case, the European Court of Justice struck down a Belgian court ruling from 2007 that forced ISPs to monitor their customer’s Internet usage and prevent any unauthorized file-sharing.

The European Court of Justice ruling is significant because it upholds fundamental human rights such as privacy and the right to receive and impart information against the consistent ratcheting up of intellectual property rights and enforcement mechanisms at the national level.  The high court recognized that a fair balance must be struck between the competing the rights of copyright holders and citizens in national efforts to protect intellectual property.

The case was brought by a Belgian management and musical licensing organization SABAM against Scarlett Extended SA, a Belgian ISP over the alleged peer-to-peer file-sharing activity of its customers.  The European Union Court of Justice struck down the mandatory monitoring and filtering regime imposed by the national court since it violated the fundamental rights guaranteed to European citizens under EU laws.

 “Consequently, the Court finds that, in adopting the injunction requiring Scarlet to install such a filtering system, the national court would not be respecting the requirement that a fair balance be struck between the right to intellectual property, on the one hand, and the freedom to conduct business, the right to protection of personal data and the right to receive or impart information, on the other.”

Press Release (Abstract) of the Ruling

Full text of EU ruling (issued 24 Nov. 2011)