Site blocking actions have become relatively common throughout Europe over the past several years. Copyright groups have won court cases in various countries including the UK, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy and France.
The rightsholders typically argue that ‘pirate’ sites infringe their rights and demand that ISPs stop forwarding traffic to them. This was also the plan in Greece, where the Greek Society for the Protection of Intellectual Property (AEPI) sued local ISPs two years ago.
AEPI wanted the Internet providers to block access to The Pirate Bay, KickassTorrents, isoHunt, 1337x and H33T, plus several local sites. The group argued that the sites damage their members’ businesses, but the ISPs countered this request by pointing out that censorship is not the answer.
A few days ago the Athens Court reached its conclusion which largely sides with the ISPs. The ruling states that blockades are disproportional and in violation of various constitutional rights.
Among other things, such measures would breach people’s right to freedom of information, confidential communications and protections against the collection, processing and use of personal data.
One of the problems the Court signaled is that the torrent sites also contain links to files that are distributed legally. These would be needlessly censored by the blockades.
In addition the verdict doubts that the blockades will be effective to begin with, as there are various circumvention options for site owners and users.
The Court further referenced the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, noting that ISPs’ “freedom to conduct a business” is at stake, as well as net neutrality principles.
“…the requested injunction goes contrary to Article 16 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, violating the rights of defendants providers in entrepreneurship, and the basic principle of Internet neutrality, which provides that all information must be handled without discrimination,” it notes.
TF spoke with Dr. Konstantinos Komaitis, an expert in Internet governance and intellectual property, who argues that in such cases proportionality is key in determining the appropriate balance.
“The decision by the Greek Court is very well thought and reasoned both from a legal and technology perspectives,” Komaitis says.
Komaitis explains that other, more appropriate and technology neutral measures should be considered, because blocking torrent sites would interfere with the right to freely share and receive information. In addition the measures are unnecessary and ineffective, since users would be able to find ways to get past the blockades.
“On the technology side, the Court correctly understood that torrent technology can — and has been – used for legal purposes, so blocking would not only be ineffective but also jeopardize its legal use,” Komaitis adds.
“All in all, the Court’s decision demonstrates two things: first, proportionality is an unwavering principle in the Greek legal system that is able to strike a very important balance between various rights; and, second, the ability of courts to understand and protect technologies that are part of an innovative Internet environment.”
The Greek verdict is similar to that of a Dutch Appeals court in The Hague last year, which ruled that the local blockade of The Pirate Bay had to be lifted.
In Greece AEPI still has the option to appeal the verdict, but whether they plan to do so is unknown at the moment. For the time being, however, the targeted torrent sites remain accessible.