EU Court: Social Networks Not Responsible For User Content


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A European court has found that social networks can’t be held responsible for the content its users post - score one for the Internet.

SABAM is a name you may not be familiar with but it’s essentially the RIAA of Belgium. The group represents authors, composers and publishers of musical works. They have a beef with Netlog, a social network similar to Facebook.

The problem SABAM has with Netlog is the sharing aspect of social networks. They feel that users sharing audio-visual works with other users over Netlog violates their copyright over the works in question. They feel that any works posted to the social network should only be made with their consent and Netlog should pay them a fee.

This all culminated in SABAM summoning Netlog before the President of the Court of First Instance of Brussels demanding that the social network “cease unlawfully making available musical or audio-visual works from SABAM’s repertoire and to pay a penalty of €1000 for each day of delay in complying with that order.”

Netlog fired back saying that granting such an injunction would be “an obligation to monitor” which is in violation of the E-Commerce Directive.

The Court of First Instance of Brussels sent the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union. They asked “whether European Union law precludes a national court from issuing an injunction against a hosting service provider, such as an owner of an online social network, which requires it to install a system for filtering information stored on its servers by its service users, which applies indiscriminately to all of those users, as a preventative measure, exclusively at its expense and for an unlimited period.”

The Court of Justice agreed that Netlog is a hosting service provider within the meaning of EU law because it stores information provided by users on its servers.

The court, however, said that requiring the social network to install a filtering system would indeed the violate the E-Commerce Directive. This is because the filtering system “would require the owner to carry out general monitoring of the information stored on its servers.”

The court says that they have to balance the rights of copyright holders and the rights of individuals who would be affected by monitoring.

They found that requiring the installation of a filtering system would only be in the favor of copyright holders. It would also infringe on the rights of Netlog and its users. The filtering system would be “a serious infringement of Netlog’s freedom to conduct its business since it would require Netlog to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense.” The filtering system would also infringe on “fundamental rights” of its users by violating their right to protection of personal data and their freedom to send and receive information, both of which are protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

In essence, the court struck down the proposed filtering system because it would not create a fair balance between the right to intellectual property and the rights of human beings.

SABAM requested a similar injunction on the Scarlet network in November of last year. The Court of Justice struck it down for the same reason. SABAM, in response, said that they will "propose alternative measures in order to protect the authors and their works."

It would seem that they haven’t proposed alternative measures just yet, but they should learn sooner or later that infringing on the rights of Internet users is not the way to “protect the authors and their works.”

You can read the whole decision here.

[Lead image courtesy of Cedric Puisney's flickr]