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Europe Rules Social Networks Don't Need Anti-Piracy Software

An attempt to accomplish piecemeal what SOPA and PIPA failed to do broadly has been quashed by the European Court of Justice. The court, Europe's theoretical equivalent to the American Supreme Court, ruled this week against Belgium's SABAM, a firm that collects music royalties on behalf of copyright holders, and in favor of Dutch social networking site Netlog.

At issue were Netlog features that, similar to other social networks like Facebook, allow users to post links to video clips on their publicly viewable profile. SABAM asserted that their consent is required for anyone to post video content by any copyright owner represented by the firm. In 2009 the company sought an injunction in Belgian courts to force Netlog to immediately terminate any feature that allows the sharing of potentially copyrighted content, and to install, at their own expense, costly anti-piracy measures. The injunction would also have imposed a fine of €1000 ($1,317) for every day of noncompliance. Netlog fought the injunction on the grounds that it would have imposed "a general obligation to monitor," which is prohibited in Article 15 of the EU's E-commerce directive.

In ruling against SABAM, the court found that an injunction against Netlog, particularly one that would require the company to create antipiracy measures at their own expense, would pose a "serious infringement of Netlog’s freedom to conduct its business." It further ruled that such requirements would also infringe on Netlog users' rights under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, including their right to receive or transmit information, and the safeguarding of their personal information. Such measures, the court ruled, might even cause lawful communications to be blocked.

This ruling may have much wider implications. As the BBC notes, this is the second time the ECJ has ruled against SABAM; last year it found that SABAM's attempt to impose a similar injunction against an ISP also violated the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. In citing the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the court may have undermined key arguments in favor of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA. If ratified, ACTA would impose SOPA-like conditions on member nations even if those nations have already rejected similar domestic laws. It is highly controversial in Europe, as evidenced by EU-wide protests earlier this week, and these rulings suggest the treaty may be incompatible with European law.