Liberty Global Unit Can Be Forced to Block Illegal Websites

Liberty Global Plc’s UPC Austrian unit, and other Internet service providers, can be forced to block access to websites that post copyright-infringing material, the European Union’s highest court ruled.

“An ISP, such as UPC Telekabel, which allows its customers to access protected subject-matter made available to the public on the Internet by a third party is an intermediary whose services are used to infringe a copyright,” the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg said today.

The case was triggered by a dispute in Austria where two companies wanted UPC Austria to block access to a website that posted films owned by the companies online. An Austrian tribunal dealing with the suit asked the EU court whether under the bloc’s rules ISPs can be forced to block their users’ access to such websites.

“We believe that the decision to block websites or other Internet content is properly one for courts and for lawmakers,” Liberty Global said in an e-mailed statement. “We are pleased that the European Court has now given guidance as to the way in which such decisions should be approached.”

In a case involving Belgacom SA’s Scarlet, the EU court ruled in 2011 that ISPs can’t be forced by a national court to block users from illegally sharing music and video files.

‘Strong Signal’

The Motion Picture Association said today’s ruling clarifies rules across the EU and sends a “strong signal” to ISPs that blocking illegal websites help reduce infringements.

“Today’s verdict means that rightsholders will continue to have the ability to secure balanced website blocking orders from national courts across the EU to address infringing sites,” Chris Marcich, president and managing director of the MPA in Europe said in an e-mailed statement.

The Austrian court will have to decide on the outcome of its specific case based on today’s decision, the EU court said.

An injunction can be issued against ISPs to prevent unauthorized access to protected material and as long as users aren’t deprived of accessing it lawfully elsewhere, the EU tribunal said today.

The case is: C-314/12, UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH v. Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, Munich (Germany), Wega Filmproduktionsgesellschaft mbH.

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