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Belgian Court Rules ISPs Must Stop File-Sharing

5 July 2007

A Belgian court has ruled that ISPs are legally responsible if their users engage in illegal file-sharing. It has given an ISP (Scarlet Extended SA) six months to block it. Details are here. Part of their rationale: an expert appointed by the court concluded that there were at least seven different technologies ISPs could use to block such traffic. Only one — Audible Magic's fingerprinting scheme — was identified in the article.

To me, this ruling is both preposterous and dangerous. It's preposterous because it makes too many assumptions about how ISPs run their networks and what happens over them. It's dangerous because it reverses the fundamental equation of the Internet: that end-points have the right and the responsibility to send and receive proper traffic, while the network is simply supposed to carry the bits. Carried to extremes, the court's attitude would require would-be innovators to seek permission from ISPs before introducing a new service, lest the service enable potentially-illegal behavior that the ISP didn't yet know how to monitor.

The law in the US is pretty clear right now that ISPs are not liable for such enforcement. This ruling, though, was based on the Belgian court's interpretation of EU law. If other European courts follow suit, the result could be very bad indeed for the net -- or for Europe...

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