In a potential precedent for global anti-piracy efforts, the ISP must install a filter to prevent illegal music downloads
A Belgian court has ruled that one of its national internet service providers must install a filter to prevent its internet users from illegally downloading music.
The Belgian society of authors, composers and publishers (SABAM) recently won its three-year long legal battle with Belgian internet service provider Scarlet Extended in which SABAM demanded that the provider used technical measures to stop internet users illegally downloading musical repertoire via peer-to-peer (P2P) software.
"We are happy with the decision but there is still a lot of work to do," said SABAM spokesman Thierry Dachelet.
The society will in the coming days and week discuss the next step, which could include taking more Belgian internet service providers (ISPs) to court.
"We have received a lot of support from authors' societies like in France, Spain, Portugal and others including US ones," Mr Dachelet told EUobserver.
Support from the record companies
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) -- which represents hundreds of record companies worldwide -- said the case could set a precedent for the international fight against piracy.
"This is an extremely significant ruling which bears out exactly what we have been saying for the last two years - that the internet's gatekeepers, the ISPs, have a responsibility to help control copyright-infringing traffic on their networks," said head of the IFPI John Kennedy.
"This is a decision that we hope will set the mould for government policy and for courts in other countries in Europe and around the world," he stated after the ruling.
Until now, the few cases that have been prosecuted across Europe have targeted individuals illegally uploading music and other files on the internet rather than the ISPs providing online access to do so.
Peer-to-peer file-sharing is estimated to cost the music industry billions of euro each year in revenues it could have made from legal and paid-for downloads or CD sales. The IFPI estimates that there were some 20 billion illegal files shared on P2P networks in 2006 - about 20 times the number of legal music downloads.
Rights owners get legal help
Meanwhile, in Sweden, the country's justice department has proposed that copyright-, patent- and trade-mark owners should be able to request a court to force ISPs to give out the identity -- the IP number -- of internet users who have infringed their rights.
At the moment, only the police and prosecutors in the Nordic country can demand the identity of the file sharers.
"That way it will be easier to intervene in illegal file sharing, which in turn stimulates the development of legal alternatives for the online spread of movies and music," the Swedish justice department said in a statement on Monday (9 July).
The Swedish move comes in connection with Stockholm's implementation of an EU intellectual property enforcement directive from 2004.
The UK may also act on ISPs by the end of the year. A 2006 report on intellectual property for the UK treasury department suggested ways ISPs could limit copyright infringement.
It noted that if they cannot reduce copyright violations on their networks by the end of 2007, the UK government should consider legislation that would compel them to do so.