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ECJ: Social Networks Can't be Compelled to Filter Content

By Smitha Shekhar

The European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that social network operators can't be forced to filter out copyrighted content.

The top court of the EU ruled that to have in place such a system wouldn't sufficiently protect the personal data of social networking users. The court ruled, "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."

In the ruling, the court called Netlog, which claims to have nearly 95 million users across Europe, a hosting service provider.

"Such preventive monitoring would therefore require active observation of the files stored by users with the owner of the social network," the court said. "Accordingly, the filtering system would require that owner to carry out general monitoring of the information stored on its servers, something which is prohibited by the E-Commerce Directive."

"The Court next recalls that, in the context of measures adopted to protect copyright holders, national authorities and courts must strike a fair balance between the protection of copyright and the protection of the fundamental rights of individuals who are affected by such measures," the ECJ added.

The ruling dealt yet another setback to Sabam, a rights group for Belgian artists and authors, which had raised issue with the practices of social networking portal Netlog.

In 2007, the organization which advocates copyrights had won a court order which compelled Belgian ISP Scarlet Extended to device a filtering system to block users from illegally downloading any copyrighted content. However in November 2011, the ECJ ruled that Scarlet should not have to filter copyright-violating traffic from its service as it would be an invasion of user privacy.