In the past couple of weeks, the world has seen a further indication that governments intend to continue to meddle with the somewhat fuzzy boundaries of Internet “control.” The European Court of Justice has ruled that European ISPs can now block access to websites that they have no connection with, if it is deemed necessary.
The background of the story originates in Austria, where two film companies (Constantin Film Verleih and Wega Filmproduktionsgesellschaft) took issue with a site called kino.to.
They accused the site of making copywrited material available, but had no luck in getting it removed. They then took up the issue with an Austrian ISP, Telekabel, asking them to block access to the site.
The ISP refused, citing technical difficulties and highlighting the fact that, essentially, the sharing site in question had nothing whatsoever to do with them.
The case ended up in the country’s supreme court and was then passed up to the European Court of Justice, who after deliberation ruled that ISPs are technically “intermediaries” between copyright holders and and those who violate such copyright.
This all means that, technically, copyright holders can now serve injunctions to ISPs in an attempt to force them to block sites that contain illegally copied material, regardless of whether or not any of the ISP’s customers are actually accessing it.
In reality, it’s fair to say it’s unlikely that copyright holders are going to start throwing injunctions around across Europe – the practicalities and logistics make this unrealistic. However, the threat of being in breach of an EU-wide ruling may force ISPs to be more stringent with customers who are clearly breaching copyright legislation.
Ultimately, it isn’t unfair to see copyright holders doing what they can to protect their intellectual property, but techies would probably argue that this particular ruling displays a certain naivety around how the Internet actually works. All those whose moral compass still allows a lax attitude to copyright will find a way around the ruling with VPNs and other anonymity solutions.
At the time of writing, the site in question, kino.to, appeared to be offline.
IMAGE CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons