The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on Thursday, March 27, that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Europe can legally block piracy sites that illegally distribute copyright-protected material.
The European court ruled on a case brought back in June 15, 2012 before the Austrian Supreme Court, which asked the ECJ to interpret European copyright law.
Distributors Constantin Film Verleih and Wega-Filmproduktionsgesellschaft took legal action against Austrian cable operator UPC Telekabel Wien for not blocking access to kino.to, at the time the largest piracy site in German-speaking countries.
Although the Austrian courts stated that UPC Telekabel should block access to the site, which was closed down in 2011 following police action, UPC Telekabel argued that blocking measures could be evaded by downloaders and would be “excessively costly”.
UPC Telekabel argued that it did not have any business relationship with the operators of the piracy site and it was never established that its own customers acted unlawfully.
The ECJ concluded in its judgment that a “person who makes protected subject-matter available to the public on a website without the agreement of the right holder is using the services of the business which provides internet access to persons accessing that subject-matter.
Thus, an ISP, such as UPC Telekabel, which allows its customers to access protected subject-matter made available to the public on the internet by a third party is an intermediary whose services are used to infringe a copyright.
The Court notes, in that regard, that the directive, which seeks to guarantee a high level of protection of rights holders, does not require a specific relationship between the person infringing copyright and the intermediary against whom an injunction may be issued. Internet users and also, indeed, the ISP must be able to assert their rights. It is a matter for the national authorities and courts to check whether those conditions are satisfied.”
Until now, courts in various countries have reached different verdict in similar cases, with the UK and Ireland among the countries that take action to block piracy sites, while in The Netherlands, the Court of The Hague has lifted the Pirate Bay blockade.
Meanwhile, various trade organisations from the music and movie industry have applauded the ECJ ruling including the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America).
The full ruling by the ECJ can be found on the Court’s website.