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...