Copyright holders dealt blow in EU social networking case

European court rules that social networking sites cannot be forced to intall general filters

Copyright holders cannot force social networking sites to install filters to prevent illegal file-sharing, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday.

"The owner of an online social network cannot be obliged to install a general filtering system, covering all its users, in order to prevent the unlawful use of musical and audio-visual work," ruled the judge in the case of SABAM versus Netlog.

The court decided that forcing websites to introduce such filters would breach users' right to protection of personal data and the freedom to receive or impart information.

SABAM, a Belgian music management company that represents authors, composers and publishers, took Netlog, an online social networking platform, to court for allowing its users to share music and video clips on its website.

According to SABAM, Netlog's social network enables users to make copyrighted works available to the public without SABAM's consent and without Netlog paying it any fee. In June 2009, SABAM asked the Court of First Instance of Brussels to order Netlog to block the sharing of musical or audio-visual works from SABAM's repertoire and to pay a penalty of €1000 for each day of delay in complying with that order. But Netlog said that such an order would be tantamount to an obligation to monitor all its users, which is prohibited by the E-Commerce Directive.

The Court of First Instance referred the matter to the ECJ, which decided that in order to comply with SABAM's request, Netlog would have to install a filtering system that would examine all of the files stored on its servers by all its users, identify the files likely to contain copyrighted works, determine which of those files are unlawful and then stop them being made available.

Such preventive monitoring could potentially undermine freedom of information, said the court. Moreover, that monitoring would have no time limit, be directed at all future infringements and be intended to protect not only existing works, but also works in the future. This would require Netlog to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense, which said the court, would be an infringement of Netlog's freedom to conduct its business.

European digital rights group EDRI welcomed the ruling: "The European judges have re-emphasized the importance of not overburdening communication tools with restrictive technologies. This is crucial to protect the fundamental rights value of the Internet as well as its economic significance."

In November, SABAM lost a similar case against Internet service providers.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jennifer Baker

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?