Article 16 - Freedom to conduct a business
Article 8 - Protection of personal data
Article 11 - Freedom of expression and information
Article 17 - Right to property
Reference for a preliminary ruling from the rechtbank van eerste aanleg te Brussel. Information society — Copyright — Internet — Hosting service provider — Processing of information stored on an online social networking platform — Introducing a system for filtering that information in order to prevent files being made available which infringe copyright — No general obligation to monitor stored information.
Outcome of the case:
On those grounds, the Court (Third Chamber) hereby rules:
— 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (Directive on electronic commerce);
— 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society; and
— 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights,
read together and construed in the light of the requirements stemming from the protection of the applicable fundamental rights, must be interpreted as precluding a national court from issuing an injunction against a hosting service provider which requires it to install a system for filtering:
— information which is stored on its servers by its service users;
— which applies indiscriminately to all of those users;
— as a preventative measure;
— exclusively at its expense; and
— for an unlimited period,
which is capable of identifying electronic files containing musical, cinematographic or audio-visual work in respect of which the applicant for the injunction claims to hold intellectual property rights, with a view to preventing those works from being made available to the public in breach of copyright.
41) The protection of the right to intellectual property is indeed enshrined in Article 17(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’). There is, however, nothing whatsoever in the wording of that provision or in the Court’s case-law to suggest that that right is inviolable and must for that reason be absolutely protected (Scarlet Extended, paragraph 43).
44) Accordingly, in circumstances such as those in the main proceedings, national authorities and courts must, in particular, strike a fair balance between the protection of the intellectual property right enjoyed by copyright holders and that of the freedom to conduct a business enjoyed by operators such as hosting service providers pursuant to Article 16 of the Charter (see Scarlet Extended, paragraph 46).
48) Moreover, the effects of that injunction would not be limited to the hosting service provider, as the contested filtering system may also infringe the fundamental rights of that hosting service provider’s service users, namely their right to protection of their personal data and their freedom to receive or impart information, which are rights safeguarded by Articles 8 and 11 of the Charter respectively.