EU court supports privacy of music downloaders
BRUSSELS – Europe’s top court on Tuesday dealt a blow to the defenders of authors’ rights, upholding a Spanish Internet provider’s refusal to reveal the identity of customers sharing music downloads.
The protection of authors’ rights “cannot … affect the requirements of the protection of personal data,” the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) said in its ruling.
European copyright laws “do not require the (EU) member states to lay down, in order to ensure effective protection of copyright, an obligation to communicate personal data in the context of civil proceedings,” the court said.
The case was originally brought to the Spanish courts by Promusicae, a Spanish non-profit organisation of music producers and publishers concerned, as much of the industry is, that their profits are being eaten up by pirated downloads and file-sharing.
Promusicae had been seeking a court order to force Telefonica to disclose the identities and addresses of several people to whom the Spanish telecommunications group had provided Internet access services.
Telefonica refused the Promusicae request, arguing that handing over personal information was authorised under Spanish law only in criminal investigations or in order to safeguard public security and national defence.
The Spanish court handed the matter over to the European court for a ruling.
The ECJ said the case “raises the question of the need to reconcile the requirements of the protection of different fundamental rights, namely the right to respect for private life on the one hand and the rights to protection of property and to an effective remedy on the other.”
The court stressed that its ruling does not preclude individual EU member states from imposing an obligation to disclose personal data in such circumstances.
“However, it does not compel the member states to lay down such an obligation,” the ruling said.
Industry groups, including the film and television as well as music sectors, welcomed the finding that the rights of protection of property must be reconciled with privacy rights and that EU nations were able to introduce an obligation to reveal personal data.
“The court has provided a welcome reminder that there is a balance in law between the rights to privacy and other fundamental rights,” said Christopher Marcich, managing director of the Motion Picture Association’s Europe office.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) welcomed, in a statement, the fact that the judgement “does not preclude the possibility for the member states of laying down an obligation to disclose personal data in the context of civil proceedings.”
IFPI chairman John Kennedy said: “Copyright theft on the Internet is the single biggest obstacle for growth of the music business today.”
The European Commission said earlier this month that it would draw up plans to boost the online market for music, films and games while promising to uphold intellectual property rights.
The market for online content is developing rapidly. According to commission figures, compiled when there were 25 member states, retail revenues from content online will reach 8.3 billion euros (12.3 billion dollars) by 2010.