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EU highest court rules ISPs not required to identify P2P users allegedly infringing copyrights
January 29, 2008

In a decision released today, the highest court in the EU, the European Court of Justice, ruled that under EU law, internet service providers (ISPs) are not required, in the course of a civil lawsuit, to disclose the identity of an individual subscriber associated with a particular IP address.

The case arose out of an attempt by PROMUSICAE, a trade group representing the music industry in Spain and the rough equivalent the RIAA in the United States, to obtain the names and addresses of subscribers of the Spanish ISP Telefonica SA that were suspected of copyright infringement by sharing copyrighted songs via the peer-to-peer (P2P) network KaZaA. The issues in this case are similar to those in the lawsuit campaign currently being conducted by the RIAA in the United States. A Spanish court sought guidance from the Court of Justice on the question of whether various EU directives required Telefonica to disclose its subscribers' identities, even though Spanish law only authorizes such disclosure in criminal proceedings, matters of national defense, or public security.

In the decision, the Court stated:

[T]he answer to the national court's question must be that Directives 2000/31, 2001/29, 2004/48 and 2002/58 do not require the Member States to lay down, in a situation such as that in the main proceedings, an obligation to communicate personal data in order to ensure effective protection of copyright in the context of civil proceedings.

The decision left open the possibility that individual members of the EU could pass legislation permitting or requiring such disclosure, although such action would have to be on a country-by-country basis. In fact, France is already exploring some alternatives to combat copyright infringement via P2P networks.

Hat tip: How Appealing.

More media coverage is available from the AP, Reuters, and the BBC.

Update (1/30): The EFF provides this report, including possible ramifications of the ruling.

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