Case C-360/10 SABAM v. Netlog

While some consider dark clouds to be gathering above internet freedom in Europe, the Court continues to make judgments that protect fundamental rights and the rights of internet users. In SABAM v. Netlog (Case C-360/10 Sabam v. Netlog) the Court had to decide whether a Belgian court could require Netlog, the Belgian equivalent to Facebook, to immediatly cease making available works from SABAM‘s repertoire. The Court held that not only was the injunction requiring Netlog to install a filtering system, which would oblige Netlog to actively monitor all the data of its users and to prevent future IPR-infringements, contrary to article 15 of Directive 2000/31, it was also contrary to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. National authorities are required to “strike a fair balance between the protection of copyright and the protection of the fundamental rights of individuals who are affected by such measures (para. 43).” Applied to this case, the injunction

would result in a serious infringement of the freedom of the hosting service provider to conduct its business since it would require that hosting service provider to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense, which would also be contrary to the conditions laid down in Article 3(1) of Directive 2004/48, which requires that measures to ensure the respect of intellectual-property rights should not be unnecessarily complicated or costly (see, by analogy, Scarlet Extended, paragraph 48).

In addition, the injunction would also violate the fudamental right to protection of the personal data of the users of Netlog, and it would also undermine freedom of information:

48      Moreover, the effects of that injunction would not be limited to the hosting service provider, as the contested filtering system may also infringe the fundamental rights of that hosting service provider’s service users, namely their right to protection of their personal data and their freedom to receive or impart information, which are rights safeguarded by Articles 8 and 11 of the Charter respectively.

49      Indeed, the injunction requiring installation of the contested filtering system would involve the identification, systematic analysis and processing of information connected with the profiles created on the social network by its users. The information connected with those profiles is protected personal data because, in principle, it allows those users to be identified (see, by analogy, Scarlet Extended, paragraph 51).

50      Moreover, that injunction could potentially undermine freedom of information, since that system might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of lawful communications. Indeed, it is not contested that the reply to the question whether a transmission is lawful also depends on the application of statutory exceptions to copyright which vary from one Member State to another. In addition, in some Member States certain works fall within the public domain or may be posted online free of charge by the authors concerned (see, by analogy, Scarlet Extended, paragraph 52).

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