The case of SABAM versus the Belgian Internet provider Tiscali has been dragging on for a few years already. In the time that passed, the Internet provider changed its name to Scarlet and was later acquired by Belgacom. Despite these changes the court battle with the Belgian music copyright lobby continues.
Through legal action the music industry outfit hopes to force the Internet provider to install a filtering mechanism on its network, so it can block the transfers of copyrighted works on file-sharing networks. In 2007, SABAM scored a victory as the court ruled that the ISP should stop illegal file-sharing using Audible Magic, a system that was recommended by the music industry.
This verdict was controversial for several reasons. Firstly, the ISP believed that it would be breaking the law when it started spying on its customers. Managing director Gert Post commented at the time: “This measure is nothing else than playing Big Brother on the Internet. If we don’t challenge it today, we leave the door open to permanent, and invisible and illegal, checks of personal data.”
Privacy was not the most urgent problem though, as implementing the filtering system also proved quite problematic. It turned out that the recommended ‘Audible Magic’ simply didn’t work and neither did any of the alternative filtering systems. The ISP could not comply with the verdict even if it wanted to.
A lawyer for SABAM later admitted that they had misled the court over the effectiveness of Audible Magic, which prompted the judge in the case to reverse the ruling. The ISP could continue without having to take measures against illicit file-sharers until the appeal was heard.
Last week the Brussels Court of Appeal started on the case. But, instead of looking into the content of the dispute, it was referred to The European Court Of Justice which will look into some of the fundamental questions posed in the case.
In Europe, this is a landmark case that will define whether or not ISPs are responsible for copyright infringements committed by customers. In recent years the entertainment industry has continuously lobbied for copyright filters and the views of the European Court Of Justice will be pivotal in this regard.