On the 16th of February 2012 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in SABAM v Netlog that online social networks cannot be forced to block users from downloading songs illegally, due to the costs burden to a company and the invasion of an individual’s privacy.
SABAM v Netlog Facts
The case involved a Belgian music royalty collecting society (SABAM) and an online Belgian social network (Netlog). SABAM claimed that the social network enabled users to make copyrighted works available to the public without SABAM’s consent and without paying any fees to the collecting society. SABAM wanted to stop the social network from allowing users to download songs and video clips from SABAM’s website, by the social network monitoring and then blocking illegal downloads.
The social network argued that it should not have to comply with such an order as this would require it to monitor the downloads of all users in order to be able to identify and stop illegal file sharing.
The court agreed with the social network and refused to make Netlog liable for the illegal downloads of its users. There were a number of reasons for this, one of which was that the analysis and processing of personal information of users via monitoring software might infringe an individual’s privacy rights. Also, obliging a social network to monitor and block downloads would disproportionately interfere with the right of the social network to freely conduct its business. In addition the court added that such monitoring might result in Netlog blocking the publication of lawful content.
This is good news for service providers and social networks located in the EU as this decision confirms that they can continue to publish content without the need for prior censorship – for the time being.