Court holds Belgian ISP responsible for file-sharing

Precedent could affect other European service providers

A court has ruled that the Belgian ISP Scarlet Extended SA is responsible for blocking illegal file-sharing on its network, setting a precedent that could affect other ISPs in Europe, according to a recording industry group.

Belgium's Court of First Instance has given the Internet service provider six months to install technology to prevent its customers from sharing pirated music and video files, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry said. If it fails to do so it will be fined $3,400 per day, according to the ruling, published June 29.

The music industry has long sought to hold ISPs responsible for illegal file-sharing on their networks, although in the U.S. it has been largely unsuccessful. ISPs have argued that they provide a service like a post office or a telephone company, and shouldn't be required to police the traffic on their networks.

The Brussels ruling is based on Belgium's interpretation of the European Union's Information Society Directive, often called the EU copyright directive, and as such could set a precedent for other cases in Europe, the IFPI said.

"The court has confirmed that the ISPs have both a legal responsibility and the technical means to tackle piracy. This is a decision that we hope will set the mold for government policy and for courts in other countries in Europe and around the world," IFPI Chairman and CEO John Kennedy said in a statement.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed against the ISP Tiscali SA by the Belgian Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers, known as SABAM. Tiscali later sold its Belgian operation to Scarlet Belgie Holding NV, and the former Tiscali business became Scarlet Extended.

The ruling appears to apply only to the Belgian service and not to Tiscali. Neither company could immediately be reached for comment, and it was unclear if Scarlet planned to appeal the ruling.

SABAM said it won a preliminary judgment in the case 2004, and the Belgian court assigned an expert to study the technical options ISPs can use to prevent illegal file sharing. It came up with seven, including a system from Audible Magic that creates a "digital fingerprint" for each copyright work and blocks their delivery over networks.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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