Key facts of the case:
This case has its origin in a dispute between Scarlet Extended SA, an internet service provider, and SABAM, a Belgian management company which is responsible for authorising the use by third parties of the musical works of authors, composers and editors.
In 2004, SABAM established that users of Scarlet's services were downloading works in SABAM’s catalogue from the internet, without authorisation and without paying royalties, by means of peer-to-peer networks (a transparent method of file sharing which is independent, decentralised and features advanced search and download functions).
Upon application by SABAM, the President of the Tribunal de première instance de Bruxelles (Brussels Court of First Instance, Belgium) ordered Scarlet, in its capacity as an internet service provider, on pain of a periodic penalty, to bring those copyright infringements to an end by making it impossible for its customers to send or receive in any way electronic files containing a musical work in SABAM's repertoire by means of peer-to-peer software.
Scarlet appealed to the Cour d'appel de Bruxelles (Brussels Court of Appeal), claiming that the injunction failed to comply with EU law because it imposed on Scarlet, de facto, a general obligation to monitor communications on its network, something which was incompatible with the Directive on electronic commerce1 and with fundamental rights. In that context, the Cour d'appel asks the Court of Justice whether EU law permits Member States to authorise a national court to order an internet service provider to install, on a general basis, as a preventive measure, exclusively at its expense and for an unlimited period, a system for filtering all electronic communications in order to identify illegal file downloads.
Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:
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;
- 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the enforcement of intellectual property rights ;
- 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data; and
- 2002/58/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 July 2002 concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on privacy and electronic communications),
read together and construed in the light of the requirements stemming from the protection of the applicable fundamental rights, must be interpreted as precluding an injunction made against an internet service provider which requires it to install a system for filtering:
- all electronic communications passing via its services, in particular those involving the use of peer-to-peer software;
- which applies indiscriminately to all its customers;
- as a preventive measure;
- exclusively at its expense; and
- for an unlimited period,
which is capable of identifying on that provider’s network the movement of electronic files containing a musical, cinematographic or audio-visual work in respect of which the applicant claims to hold intellectual-property rights, with a view to blocking the transfer of files the sharing of which infringes copyright.