To the global audience Ulož.to may not be a household name but in the Czech Republic, it is huge.
The file-sharing and hosting service has millions of users and is listed among the 40 most-visited websites in the country. In addition, its mobile apps are frequently used as well.
Like many other file storage platforms, Ulož can be used to share a wide variety of files but, according to copyright holders, many people abuse the platform to share pirated music, movies, and TV shows.
Filter Battle in Court
Similar to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, Uloz removes infringing content when it receives takedown notices but Czech anti-piracy group Dilia believes that the procedure doesn’t go far enough.
Representing several rightsholders, Dilia took Uloz to court, successfully requesting far-reaching anti-piracy filters. In 2019, a Prague court ruled that the file-sharing site must block searches for several film-related terms.
Uloz was not pleased with this decision. The company complained that these types of filters pose a threat to the free Internet since they lead to overbroad censorship. To prevent this, Uloz fought the issue all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Rightsholders, meanwhile, were not satisfied either. They requested more far-reaching measures from the file-sharing platform, instead of tailored filters for a subset of keywords.
Supreme Court Affirms Piracy Filters
After hearing the arguments from both sides, last week the Supreme Court decided to keep the lower court’s ruling intact. This means that Uloz must continue to filter searches for a list of “forbidden words” and block downloads of related movies.
The highlighted movies are all local titles and include “Pelíšků” (Cosy Dens), “Kobry a užovky” (The Snake Brothers), “Ostře sledované vlaky” (Closely Watched Trains), “Vesničko má středisková” (My Sweet Little Village), “S čerty nejsou žerty” (Give the Devil His Due) and “Obušku, z pytle ven” (Stick, Start Beating!).
There is some silver lining for Uloz as well. The Supreme Court rejected the rightsholders’ argument that the service is liable for the infringements of its users. More far-reaching anti-piracy measures were also rejected.
“The mere fact that a provider of a file storage service is generally aware that works are unlawfully made available through its service […] is not sufficient to conclude that the service provider acts to participate in individual copyright offenses,” the Court found.
That said, if rightsholders point out specific instances of infringement, Uloz has to take action. In this case it must use technical measures to prevent people from finding and downloading the six films.
“After all, such technological measures currently exist and […] are capable of detecting repeatedly unauthorized storage and access to files containing works or objects of copyright-related rights,” the judges write.
When we search for one of the six film titles on Uloz today, we see the following error message. “The search for this term was censored by a decision of the court.”
Uloz respects the Supreme Court’s decision, which confirms that it’s a legitimate business. However, the file-sharing platform believes that the filter requirements go too far and will lead to censorship.
“We agree with a significant part of the court’s ruling. The judgment once again confirmed that it works in full compliance with Czech and European law. Many of Dilia’s charges were correctly dismissed during the trial,” Uloz says.
“However, one part of the verdict is, in our opinion and judged by our experts, still in conflict with freedom of speech and introduces disproportionate censorship.”
The Supreme Court ruling is not the end of the legal battle. The file-sharing platform says that it will challenge the censorship part at the Constitutional Court. According to Uloz, the current verdict restricts people’s freedom of expression, which violates the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Last year, Uloz also successfully appealed a preliminary court order that required it to block files that contain the word Šarlatán” (Charlatan). At the time, the court concluded that filtering searches for a generic word goes too far.