Is Streaming Pirated Movies Illegal? EU Court to Decide

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Seeking clarification, a Dutch court has referred several streaming related questions to the EU Court of Justice. The questions relate to a case between local anti-piracy group BREIN and a seller of so-called "pirate boxes" that come pre-loaded with streaming plugins. It is currently unclear whether streaming pirated movies is permitted under EU law.

moviesOnline streaming continues to gain in popularity, both from authorized and pirate sources.

Unlike traditional forms of downloading, however, in many countries the legality of viewing unauthorized streams remains unclear.

In the European Union this may change in the near future. Earlier this month a Dutch court referred several streaming related questions to the EU Court of Justice.

The questions were raised in a case between Dutch anti-piracy group BREIN and the shop, which sells “piracy configured” media players. While these devices don’t host any infringing content, they ship with add-ons that make it very easy to watch infringing content.

While BREIN argues that this is illegal a local court is not yet convinced that it’s an offense under current law and wants Europe’s highest court to decide.

The first set of questions is closely tied to the case and asks whether selling pre-programmed media-players with links to pirate sources is permitted, and whether it matters if the add-ons are freely available, among other things.

These are important questions as pre-loaded boxes are commonly sold in the EU. Despite the legal uncertainty, this has already resulted in a raid and arrest by UK police earlier this year.

The second set of questions is even more crucial since it relates to streaming in general, which affects millions of users and large multinationals such as Google. Broadly translated, the court first asks the following question:

“Is it lawful under EU law to temporarily reproduce content through streaming if the content originates from a third-party website where it’s made available without permission?”

If this is not the case, then the EU Court of Justice is asked to clarify whether it violates the “three-step-test” of the EU Copyright Directive.

The answers will be of interest to many stakeholders including Google who have a significant interest in streaming related issues because of YouTube, and members of the general public since streaming is so common now.

BREIN is happy with the court’s referral and hopes that the EU Court’s ruling will bring more clarity on the streaming issue. But for now, it doesn’t plan to stop going after sellers of pirate boxes.

“BREIN is pleased that more clarity will be given through these fundamental questions which in the current case law of the CJEU stay unanswered. Meanwhile BREIN persists in its approach towards traders of similar media-players with illegal preprogrammed software,” the group notes.


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