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European courts clear the web-blocks

By | Published on Friday 28 March 2014


You know that web-blocking we’ve all be doing, by which I mean you’ve all been doing, by which I mean you there record companies have been all doing, by which I mean all you BPI affiliated labels have been endorsing? Well, good news, you’ve not been breaking any European laws. So, as you were.

As previously reported, the music and movie industries in various European jurisdictions, including the UK, have in recent years sought so called web-block injunctions through the courts, which order internet service providers to block access to their customers to websites that prolifically infringe copyright or, more likely, assist others in their pesky piracy conduct.

The UK courts have got rather good at issuing such injunctions, even though parliament wasn’t so keen on the web-blocking procedure when it was proposed to MPs ahead of the 2010 Digital Economy Act. But judges subsequently ruled that no new anti-piracy laws were required to allow web-blocks to be ordered.

But in Austria one web-block case – led by movie companies Constantin Film and Wega against net firm UPC Telekabel Wien in relation to popular German-language content-nicking-forum – ended up being referred to the European Courts Of Justice, to check whether web-blocking violated any rights under European Union law. Had the EU court ruled against web-blocking, it could have forced a rethink in all Union jurisdictions.

But the European judges said “yay” to the web-blocks, or more to the point that such injunctions were allowed under EU law.

It was a decision unsurprisingly welcomed by the EMEA boss of the Motion Picture Association, Chris Marcich, who told reporters: “I am particularly encouraged by the strong stance the [EU court] has taken in relation to the responsibility of intermediaries to address copyright infringement. A sustainable internet that benefits all must operate fairly, with proportionate and balanced rules. We must all play a constructive role in this aim including search engines who continue to lead consumers to illegal money-making sites”.

Although in the UK the web-block injunctions haven’t generally proven controversial in court – though there are plenty of critics of such moves outside the courtroom – that’s not been the case all over Europe. As previously reported, in the Netherlands the Dutch High Court recently overturned injunctions issued by a lower court, meaning web-blocks that had been in place have now been lifted while the country’s anti-piracy group takes the matter to the country’s Supreme Court.

And even where web-blocks are now the norm, there are plenty of proxies to help users circumvent the blockades. Critics say that fact makes the injunctions pointless, while rights owners argue that there should be a process for speedily blocking such proxies too, and that Google should be forced to also remove blocked sites and proxies from its search lists.