While we wait with bated breath for the High Court’s deliberations on Roadshow v iiNet (transcript of hearing here, here and here), it is worth noting that the CJEU (formerly the ECJ) has struck down an injunction against an ISP which required the ISP to monitor all its users’ traffic and filter (block) copyright infringing material.

SABAM, the Belgian authors’ collecting society (counterpart to APRA) obtained an interlocutory injunction against Scarlet, an ISP. SABAM contended that some of Scarlet’s customers were using its services to engage in peer-to-peer file sharing of copyright materials without authorisation. It obtained from the Belgian courts an order that Scarlet implement a system of filtering to ensure that its users were blocked or otherwise made it impossible for them to send or receive in any way, files containing a musical work using peer-to-peer software without the permission of the copyright owners.

It was common ground between the parties that this would require Scarlet to introduce a system for filtering:

–        all electronic communications passing via its services, in particular those involving the use of peer-to-peer software;

–        which applies indiscriminately to all its customers;

–        as a preventive measure;

–        exclusively at its expense; and

–        for an unlimited period,

which is capable of identifying on that provider’s network the movement of electronic files containing a musical, cinematographic or audio-visual work in respect of which the applicant claims to hold intellectual property rights, with a view to blocking the transfer of files the sharing of which infringes copyrigh

It was also common ground between the parties that such a system would require :

–        first, that the ISP (Scarlet) identify, within all of the electronic communications of all its customers, the files relating to peer-to-peer traffic;

–        secondly, that it identify, within that traffic, the files containing works in respect of which holders of intellectual-property rights claim to hold rights;

–        thirdly, that it determine which of those files are being shared unlawfully; and

–        fourthly, that it block file sharing that it considers to be unlawful.

That is, the ISP would have to monitor all the traffic across its network.

While the CJEU recognised that IP, in this case copyright, was a fundamental right. It also recognised that its protection needed to be balanced against the protection of other fundamental interests. It was necessary to strike a fair balance between the rights of copyright owners, ISPs and their customers. This injunction did not do that and so was incompatible with Community law (we would say “invalid”):

47      In the present case, the injunction requiring the installation of the contested filtering system involves monitoring all the electronic communications made through the network of the ISP concerned in the interests of those rightholders. Moreover, that monitoring has no limitation in time, is directed at all future infringements and is intended to protect not only existing works, but also future works that have not yet been created at the time when the system is introduced.

48      Accordingly, such an injunction would result in a serious infringement of the freedom of the ISP concerned to conduct its business since it would require that ISP to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense, which would also be contrary to the conditions laid down in Article 3(1) of Directive 2004/48, which requires that measures to ensure the respect of intellectual-property rights should not be unnecessarily complicated or costly.

49      In those circumstances, it must be held that the injunction to install the contested filtering system is to be regarded as not respecting the requirement that a fair balance be struck between, on the one hand, the protection of the intellectual-property right enjoyed by copyright holders, and, on the other hand, that of the freedom to conduct business enjoyed by operators such as ISPs.

50      Moreover, the effects of that injunction would not be limited to the ISP concerned, as the contested filtering system may also infringe the fundamental rights of that ISP’s customers, namely their right to protection of their personal data and their freedom to receive or impart information, which are rights safeguarded by Articles 8 and 11 of the Charter respectively.

Thus, the filtering injunction did not strike a fair balance between the protection of IP and the rights of ISPs and their customers.

Case C-70/10 Scarlet Extended SA v SABAM, 24 November 2011.

IPKat has the text of the CJEU’s Summary and as they point out, the CJEU’s ruling has some interesting implications for the filtering injunction ordered by Arnold J in Newzbin 2.

Of course, in Australia, we do not labour under a Charter of Rights. Section 116AH(2) of the Copyright Act 1968 does, however, place some limits on a “carriage service provider’s” obligations to monitor:

(2)  Nothing in the conditions is to be taken to require a carriage service provider to monitor its service or to seek facts to indicate infringing activity except to the extent required by a standard technical measure mentioned in condition 2 in table item 1 in the table in subsection (1),

which is a rather more anodyne protection. Also, under the Telecommunications Act, carriers and carriage service providers have prohibitions on disclosing information related to communications (which is not the same thing as a prohibition on monitoring), but there are important exceptions including disclosures authorised by or under law. Cf  e.g. ss 276 and 280.