LEGAL EAGLE the European Court of Justice has announced a win for privacy online in its decision that monitoring and filtering online content is unlawful and unfair.
In a ruling on the Sabam v. Netlog case (PDF), it said, "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."
Sabam is the Belgian music royalty collection outfit. It sued Netlog in 2009 and attempted to get it to install monitoring software in its social networking operation. Netlog baulked at this, and today it is gratified by the Court of Justice announcement.
"The injunction would involve the identification, systematic analysis and processing of information connected with the profiles created on the social network, that information being protected personal data because, in principle, it allows those users to be identified," said the Brussels-based European Court of Justice in its decision.
"Second, that injunction could potentially undermine freedom of information, since that system might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of lawful communications."
The ruling clears up some controversy over whether it is right to force a web hosting firm to monitor its users to detect if they are infringing copyrights. According to the rights advocacy group La Quadrature du Net, it is a timely ruling. particularly when you consider legal machinations like ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and the DEA.
"This ruling should sound as a call for EU policy makers to stop pushing for privatized censorship schemes under the guise of ';cooperation' between Internet actors and the entertainment industry," said Jérémie Zimmermann, spokesperson for La Quadrature du Net.
"We now need to break away from repression, which is bound to undermine our freedoms online and the open Internet, and engage in a profound reform of our broken copyright regime. We must invent a copyright that, instead of censoring the Net, will foster access to culture and sharing while fairly funding creation."
The last few months have not been kind to the Sabam cause, and in November the European Court of Justice ruled against it in another case involving the internet service provider (ISP) Scarlet Extended SA.
Then, as here, the court said that there is a requirement to strike a fair balance between the right to intellectual property, the freedom to conduct business and the privacy right to protection of personal data, including IP addresses. µ