Uncensored web is a fundamental right, EU says

The European Court of Justice has overthrown a ruling that would force ISPs to filter their internet traffic to prevent illegal file sharing, Ars Technica reports. Scarlet Extended, a major Belgian ISP, has been the target of a suit by the Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers over alleged piracy by the ISP's customers. 

It took a while to get things sorted out - the suit began in 2004, and a 2007 ruling required Scarlet to sniff out and filter illegal content. Scarlet appealed since, according to them, monitoring users' communications would've been in violation of European law. All of that equipment would've been expensive, too. So Scarlet decided to take the suit all the way to the highest court in the land.  

When Scarlet asked the European Court of Justice whether local courts had the right to force them to censor their internet traffic, the answer was a resounding no. The court found that the law would infringe on users' right "to protection of their personal data and their right to receive or impart information," and that monitoring internet traffic could "potentially undermine freedom of information since that system might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of lawful communications..." 

It's also still legal for copyright holders to request that an ISP block a particular infringing site, but they will be protected from being required to enforce wider filtering. On the other hand, the ruling effectively shot down the possibility of anything like the Stop Online Piracy Act that copyright holders have been trying to force through Congress in the United States from being instituted in the EU.  

It's good to finally see courts standing up against such heavy handed tactics. Rights holder's quest to block pirated content has the unfortunate side effect of cutting off access to legally shared content and services, as well as creating legal precedents inviting wider censorship. Now, if we can just get US courts to do the same...

 

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I don't really like the title of the article. Uncensored web, or any form of the internet at all, isn't really a 'fundamental right'. It's still is, and always has been, a product/service we pay for. A government-protected fundamental right is something we'd just plain have by being citizens, and our tax dollars would fund the defense of that right.

But access to an uncensored internet isn't exactly a natural resource or a human ability/philosophy. The internet is a connected, social/commercial/entertainment/information hub, and everything 'deep' and 'meaningful' we've attached to it philosophically and/or political is just a product of hyperbolic imaginations obsessed with grandeur.

All the same, I do like the IDEA of an unfiltered internet, and would pay extra for it, but the idea that it is mine because I'm human and it's my deserved, fundamental right simply because I exist feels like nothing more than crazy ego stroking.

Joshie said,
I don't really like the title of the article. Uncensored web, or any form of the internet at all, isn't really a 'fundamental right'. It's still is, and always has been, a product/service we pay for. A government-protected fundamental right is something we'd just plain have by being citizens, and our tax dollars would fund the defense of that right.

That's kind of like saying that freedom of the press isn't a fundamental right, isn't it? I mean, you have to pay to get access to a newspaper, but we still consider it a fundamental right that that newspaper be uncensored and free to say whatever it wants to.

THolman said,

That's kind of like saying that freedom of the press isn't a fundamental right, isn't it? I mean, you have to pay to get access to a newspaper, but we still consider it a fundamental right that that newspaper be uncensored and free to say whatever it wants to.


Not exactly. Freedom of the press gives you the right to print and distribute without being censored by the government because of your message. The internet doesn't work like the press; content creators don't code a site and then distribute it themselves.

They buy a domain, buy/contract a server, buy the bandwidth, and generally rely on arrangements with businesses/governments to make their content accessible in the first place. There is no possible way to put a website in front of a user without being first yourself a customer in a contract with a business.

Joshie said,

Not exactly. Freedom of the press gives you the right to print and distribute without being censored by the government because of your message. The internet doesn't work like the press; content creators don't code a site and then distribute it themselves.

They buy a domain, buy/contract a server, buy the bandwidth, and generally rely on arrangements with businesses/governments to make their content accessible in the first place. There is no possible way to put a website in front of a user without being first yourself a customer in a contract with a business.

Someone has to buy all of that printing equipment and ink, don't they?

THolman said,

Someone has to buy all of that printing equipment and ink, don't they?


Yeah, but now you're officially reaching. There's no contract necessarily involved in that. Newsletter publishers often owned their own printing presses at the time the Bill of Rights was put down. There was footwork, not bandwidth involved. You can reach and reach and reach to find obscure, awkward ways to make your metaphor work, but it doesn't. The internet is not the press. The only way you might come close to making the metaphor work 10% of the way is if newspapers were, for some reason, only possible to distribute on private property (representing bandwidth).

The thing is, privately owned businesses most certainly CAN restrict what can be distributed on their property. While a Panera might approve one thing pinned up to their bulletin board, it is 100% within their legal rights to refuse another.

Newspapers are also, even (and especially) on public property, restricted from containing obscene material. You cannot distribute a newspaper with pornography in it downtown in broad daylight at grand central station, and no tantrum about free press will change that. The reason the internet can contain pornography is, in fact, BECAUSE it's a consortium of private businesses.

Privately owned bandwidth providers selling to privately owned servers hosting privately owned websites in a glorified network of contracts that by nature include permissions and restrictions (otherwise contracts would serve no purpose).

So please, find a better metaphor if you want to continue this argument about rights. If you seriously continue with free press, I'm just going to assume you've given up.

Joshie said,
I don't really like the title of the article. Uncensored web, or any form of the internet at all, isn't really a 'fundamental right'. It's still is, and always has been, a product/service we pay for. A government-protected fundamental right is something we'd just plain have by being citizens, and our tax dollars would fund the defense of that right.

But access to an uncensored internet isn't exactly a natural resource or a human ability/philosophy. The internet is a connected, social/commercial/entertainment/information hub, and everything 'deep' and 'meaningful' we've attached to it philosophically and/or political is just a product of hyperbolic imaginations obsessed with grandeur.

All the same, I do like the IDEA of an unfiltered internet, and would pay extra for it, but the idea that it is mine because I'm human and it's my deserved, fundamental right simply because I exist feels like nothing more than crazy ego stroking.

If there was a web site offering something illegal local police can obtain a shut down order for that web site; ISP do not have the right to filter or throttle people, AKA paying customers, connections based on the possibility that some kind of web sites like P2P are used for pirating.
This is the big difference..........

Joshie said,

Yeah, but now you're officially reaching. There's no contract necessarily involved in that. Newsletter publishers often owned their own printing presses at the time the Bill of Rights was put down. There was footwork, not bandwidth involved. You can reach and reach and reach to find obscure, awkward ways to make your metaphor work, but it doesn't. The internet is not the press.

I was actually joking that last time, mate, hence the But I don't really see why there needs to be a metaphor. The Internet is a new medium, and I believe that it should be free and open *in the spirit* of the press and speech, regardless of the differences of those mediums.

And like Fritzly said, it's certainly fine and legal for certain sites that are proven as illegal to be taken down, just like real life pirated materials. I just don't like wider censorship policies. But, that's just my two illogical cents

Joshie said,

Privately owned bandwidth providers selling to privately owned servers hosting privately owned websites in a glorified network of contracts that by nature include permissions and restrictions (otherwise contracts would serve no purpose).

This is not entirely correct: even in the US a company like AT&T that provides landline, telephone services to private citizens operates under certain regulations and scrutiny because it offers what is considered in modern legislation a primary, basic service.

At least in the EU "internet access" is now included among these kind of services
therefore there are limits to what an IP can impose and deny.
Obviously this does not mean that everything is allowed but that it is not up to a private corporation to preemptively monitor and censors web access prevaricating the role of institutions, like the Judicial Court system, created to investigate, prosecute and, in case the alleged offender is found guilty, sanction such person or legal entity.

So then, people who create intellectual works such as movies, music, or software have no rights? Everyone should be able to use their works free of charge?

What about more harmful content such as child pornography? Surely, stuff like that should be able to be blocked?

What about a transparent block system. A list of all blocked websites would be published online and have the reasons listed so that owners of those sites could know why and petition their website to be unblocked?

It seems this judgment is a more ideological one than a rational one.

pack34 said,
So then, people who create intellectual works such as movies, music, or software have no rights? Everyone should be able to use their works free of charge?

This ruling does not take stance on the legality of anything like that, it takes stance on forcing the ISPs to filter certain information from the net which everyone who knows anything about the structure of the net knows is completely and utterly impossible.

pack34 said,
What about more harmful content such as child pornography? Surely, stuff like that should be able to be blocked?

No it shouldn't. Police and other enforcement agencies should go after the people doing it, not force ISPs to incorporate stupid and ineffective method of censorship which ultimately do nothing (as proven by the CP rings in the first place, they use encryption, obfuscation and other methods of hiding their activities).

pack34 said,
What about a transparent block system. A list of all blocked websites would be published online and have the reasons listed so that owners of those sites could know why and petition their website to be unblocked?

Money and time sink, not to mention gives politicians and other agencies too much power over "unwanted information". Today it's CP, tomorrow it's software and then it's your right to express your ideals.

pack34 said,
It seems this judgment is a more ideological one than a rational one.

It's a rational one in the sense that it sees the futility of trying to prevent illegal activity through bulky and ineffective methods.

pack34 said,
So then, people who create intellectual works such as movies, music, or software have no rights? Everyone should be able to use their works free of charge?

I'm a content creator, and yes, I do have rights. I respect copyright. I wouldn't want someone stealing what I write, and I have enough respect not to steal from other artists and companies. There is some justification for copyright violation in some cases (not for profit fair use, abandonware and so on), but for the most part, I am anti-piracy. On the other hand, I'm even more anti-censorship.

China uses pornography as a scapegoat to block dissident websites. I don't want to see the same thing happen in the west using piracy as a scapegoat.

THolman said,

I'm a content creator, and yes, I do have rights. I respect copyright. I wouldn't want someone stealing what I write, and I have enough respect not to steal from other artists and companies. There is some justification for copyright violation in some cases (not for profit fair use, abandonware and so on), but for the most part, I am anti-piracy. On the other hand, I'm even more anti-censorship.

China uses pornography as a scapegoat to block dissident websites. I don't want to see the same thing happen in the west using piracy as a scapegoat.

Have an open list of all blocked websites and the reasons why. Allow website operators to petition the reversal of the block. Seems pretty simple way of preventing abuse of the system. The entire thing could be run by an independent party.

pack34 said,

The government? (Oh noes! SOCIALISM!!1one)

each country has their own list and company to maintain it?
what if your website was blocked in more than one country? the website owner would need to contact multiple companies in multiple languages to get the website unblocked?
not knocking the idea as a whole, i like it, just seems like it would be more difficult to implement and maintain than you imply

mulligan2k said,

each country has their own list and company to maintain it?
what if your website was blocked in more than one country? the website owner would need to contact multiple companies in multiple languages to get the website unblocked?
not knocking the idea as a whole, i like it, just seems like it would be more difficult to implement and maintain than you imply

To make it simpler it should be one master list to prevent issues like that. Having an international independent body might also help curb abuse. I agree that the implementation and maintenance would be complex. The main issue with just trying to police websites that promote illegal activity is that you can't (and shouldn't) branch out beyond your country's jurisdiction. Say if some "rouge" country in Africa or Asia had servers that were hosting a website detailing how to abduct children. You can ask that the site be taken down but you really couldn't force them to do so. You have no power over that country. It just seems to me that the only reasonable thing to do would be to block access to that site in areas that you do have control over.

pack34 said,

To make it simpler it should be one master list to prevent issues like that. Having an international independent body might also help curb abuse. I agree that the implementation and maintenance would be complex. The main issue with just trying to police websites that promote illegal activity is that you can't (and shouldn't) branch out beyond your country's jurisdiction. Say if some "rouge" country in Africa or Asia had servers that were hosting a website detailing how to abduct children. You can ask that the site be taken down but you really couldn't force them to do so. You have no power over that country. It just seems to me that the only reasonable thing to do would be to block access to that site in areas that you do have control over.

That wouldn't solve the problem though. People who download software would just find some other way to do it. Would complicate the everyday surfing for the normal user as the wrong sites get blocked.

I don't think that blocking sites or filtering traffic is the right way to attack the problem. Learn from spotify. I haven't downloaded any music since I started using spotify. It's not perfect but it's a great start. Instead of putting all the time, money and effort into fighting piracy maybe someone should start looking at alternatives.

I don't want to go to a store and buy a physical cd or dvd. I just want it to be available on all my devices and most importantly I want it right now at this moment, not tomorrow or the day after that. Torrents solve that crucial problem, I wouldn't mind paying for it.

For games i say that steam has come a long way. The only problem I have with steam is that it's usually more expensive too buy a game from steam than to buy a physical copy, which makes no sense whatsoever.

So give me an alternative that works and i'll gladly use it. Don't for a second think that it's only for the money people download. It's just quite simply a much better service.

pack34 said,

To make it simpler it should be one master list to prevent issues like that. Having an international independent body might also help curb abuse. I agree that the implementation and maintenance would be complex. The main issue with just trying to police websites that promote illegal activity is that you can't (and shouldn't) branch out beyond your country's jurisdiction. Say if some "rouge" country in Africa or Asia had servers that were hosting a website detailing how to abduct children. You can ask that the site be taken down but you really couldn't force them to do so. You have no power over that country. It just seems to me that the only reasonable thing to do would be to block access to that site in areas that you do have control over.

And that could also lead to them blocking things that shouldn't be blocked. Like I said earlier, like China blocks sites using pornography as a scapegoat. Speaking of China, your review board sounds a lot like what they want:

http://www.neowin.net/news/china-wants-internet-police

Personally, that's not the kind of world that I want.

Shadowzz said,

downloading movies and music still legal in the Netherlands

Is uploading legal there? I know in some places downloading is legal, but uploading is illegal, since the downloader isn't infringing the copyright, the uploader is.

Good call. I happen to be an European and this aligns with other critical decisions the EU has made such as the software patents (which do not exist).
While some people here are obviously way too accustomed to hear about EU keeping an eye on Microsoft because it is a monopoly (if you're an avid Neowin reader, you've probably seen articles about it), I generally agree with EU's position because it is often fair and balanced.
Now only if we could find a consensus in economy...

Xerax said,
Wow.. The EU doing something right? First time I've ever been happy to be in the EU.

Have you ever had an electronic device that fail after 23 month from the purchase date? In the EU all these devices, including Apple ones btw, are covered by 24 months warranty, no matter what. Apple tried to reaffirm that their products were covered only for 12 months, as in the US, but they lost.

Well... "The European Court of Justice", "High Court" and crap, literally... Every country is totally different and has its own rules. In short, it doesn't mean much what that court said. The court seemingly can be perfect, though, the reality is completely different in our d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t nations.

Who is gonna listen a few appointed dudes, when the interests are against.

Edited by PC EliTiST, Nov 26 2011, 6:27pm :

You know, you don't get much higher up than the European Court of Justice. It generally applies to EU nations, which is a lot of important countries.

PC EliTiST said,
Well... "The European Court of Justice", "High Court" and crap, literally... Every country is totally different and has its own rules. In short, it doesn't mean much what that court said. The court seemingly can be perfect, though, the reality is completely different in our d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-t nations.

Who is gonna listen a few appointed dudes, when the interests are against.

Well, maybe you do not know that EU Countries must adhere with the Court ruling; if they do not they can be prosecuted.

Tech Star said,
WHOW WHOW WHOW! The EU is saying something logical?

Don't be so surprised, the EU actually does a lot of good. They might not be so great in some places (they aren't good with money, for example), but their grasp on freedom and what it means is almost unmatched, particularly when it comes to stomping on these copyright trolls who want to run the internet as their own personal network.

They've got it right for once! Blocking any part of the internet takes away the thing that makes the internet great in the first place - freedom of information.

If they start blocking file sharing sites it's only one step away from blocking stuff they simply don't want you to see, which is fundamentally wrong.

Tender Foot said,
A right that's abused and it shouldn't be like anyother right that people take advantage of!

You can't abuse a given fundamental right by definition. I have a right to freedom of speech, and if I were to say something with a racist AND anti-semitic overtone (not that I would), it might offend people but it's my right to say it, and it's not an abuse of that privilege if I'm allowed to say it.

Uncensored internet is my right (as a European citizen, YMMV), and if I were to download a movie, I'd be committing copyright infringement, but I wouldn't be abusing the uncensored internet, I'd simply be using it to pirate said movie, in the same way that rioters aren't abusing their right to protest, but they are breaking vandalism and violence laws.

When people say things they should be saying that's not acceptable in today's society is abusing your right to free speech and expression as people tend to get carried away. Becuase the internet maybe a right in EU it's doesn't give the people the right to abuse it to hack or piracy etc the list goes on.

Tender Foot said,
When people say things they should be saying that's not acceptable in today's society is abusing your right to free speech and expression as people tend to get carried away. Becuase the internet maybe a right in EU it's doesn't give the people the right to abuse it to hack or piracy etc the list goes on.

Forgot, I have the right to bear arms, it's doesn't mean I have the right to carry guns any place I like regardless what States/local laws say.

But in both your cases, you wouldn't be abusing your freedom (or in your second case, to bear arms), but you would be disobeying the law. In fact your right to bear arms promotes the idea that you should be able to carry a firearm to defend yourself wherever you please, but the laws places restrictions on where that right is applicable. Whether or not those laws infringe on your rights as a citizen is what this is about.

Censoring blocks of the web without consideration for blocks harming legitimate content has been considered in this case to infringe on Europeans right to have a free internet, and has therefore been shot down. Same could be applied to state-local laws on gun control, although I'm not a US citizen and wouldn't want to comment on that particular instance.

Majesticmerc said,

You can't abuse a given fundamental right by definition. I have a right to freedom of speech, and if I were to say something with a racist AND anti-semitic overtone (not that I would), it might offend people but it's my right to say it, and it's not an abuse of that privilege if I'm allowed to say it.

Uncensored internet is my right (as a European citizen, YMMV), and if I were to download a movie, I'd be committing copyright infringement, but I wouldn't be abusing the uncensored internet, I'd simply be using it to pirate said movie, in the same way that rioters aren't abusing their right to protest, but they are breaking vandalism and violence laws.

+1 on a good post.

Majesticmerc said,

You can't abuse a given fundamental right by definition. I have a right to freedom of speech, and if I were to say something with a racist AND anti-semitic overtone (not that I would), it might offend people but it's my right to say it, and it's not an abuse of that privilege if I'm allowed to say it.

Uncensored internet is my right (as a European citizen, YMMV), and if I were to download a movie, I'd be committing copyright infringement, but I wouldn't be abusing the uncensored internet, I'd simply be using it to pirate said movie, in the same way that rioters aren't abusing their right to protest, but they are breaking vandalism and violence laws.

+2

Very well said, sir/madam.

Majesticmerc said,
But in both your cases, you wouldn't be abusing your freedom (or in your second case, to bear arms), but you would be disobeying the law. In fact your right to bear arms promotes the idea that you should be able to carry a firearm to defend yourself wherever you please, but the laws places restrictions on where that right is applicable. Whether or not those laws infringe on your rights as a citizen is what this is about.

Censoring blocks of the web without consideration for blocks harming legitimate content has been considered in this case to infringe on Europeans right to have a free internet, and has therefore been shot down. Same could be applied to state-local laws on gun control, although I'm not a US citizen and wouldn't want to comment on that particular instance.

+100