24 November 2011

Scarlet vs SABAM: Do Neither Block, Nor Filter!

Image: …E O VENTO LEVOU (Gone With The Wind) by jonycunha on Flickr
...E O VENTO LEVOU (Gone With The Wind)

If you have landed here, I guess you are interested to find out more about today’s ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union in the case Scarlet Extended vs Société belge des auteurs compositeurs et éditeurs (SABAM).

Some months ago I blogged on the opinion of the Advocate General Cruz Villalón, in which he asked the Court to declare that

the EU law precludes a national court from making an order that an ISP installs a system for filtering all electronic communications. 

I suggest that you read this older post of mine in order to be familiar with the background of the case.

So,

what did the Court decide?

The Court basically backed the Advocate General’s opinion and held that

1. while the right to intellectual property is indeed enshrined in Article 17(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (‘the Charter’),  it has no absolute protection;

2. national authorities and courts, when undertaking measures to protect copyright holders, must strike a fair balance between the protection of copyright and (i) the protection of the fundamental rights of individuals who are affected by such measures and (ii) the protection of the freedom to conduct a business enjoyed by ISPs such as Scarlet pursuant to Article 16 of the Charter;

3. the obligation of ISPs (such as Scarlet) to install and maintain a complicated, costly and permanent filtering system in the interests of copyright holders (such as SABAM) without any limitation in time, directed at all future infringements and intended to protect not only existing works, but also future works, would well infringe both, ISPs freedom to conduct a business and the fundamental rights of that ISP’s customers, 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.

Consequently, the Court held that an injunction ordering an ISP to filter its network traffic in the manner of para 3 above would represent a

serious infringement of EU law

and any national court, having issued such an injunction, would disrespect the legal framework of the European Union.

In my previous blogpost I predicted that Advocate General`s opinion, if followed by the Court, would create a bomb blast to sweep away the adversaries of fundamental human rights.

Did I promise you too much? I hope not.

Anyway, although the Court did in fact light a fuse that will eventually cause an explosion, it will not be a hurting one. It will rather provide ISPs such as Scarlet with the necessary shell to protect them in the performance of their most important services to the information society.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Basically and since the ruling heavily relies on Article 15 of the Directive 2000/31/EC, an ISP is protected only to the extent that it does not filter or modify its network`s traffic. Should the ISP – be it by means of an excessive compliance or an anticipatory self-regulation – begin to filter or block traffic, it would then lose the abovementioned privilege.

So, ISPs all over the EU – do simply enjoy the new dawn of the ruling and do neither block, nor filter, because otherwise you might be gone with the wind!

16 April 2011

Scarlet vs SABAM: Gone With The Wind?

Interiorsphoto © 2009 jaci Lopes dos Santos | more info (via: Wylio)

In Margaret Mitchell’s novel Gone with the Wind, the novel’s protagonist, Scarlett O’Hara wonders to herself if her home on a plantation called “Tara” symbolising the pre-civil war South is still standing, or if it was “also gone with the wind”.

I must say that I had similar thoughts when I read the opinion of Advocate general Cruz Villalón in the case Scarlet vs SABAM.
I bet you want to know why?

Good, before I share them with you, however, I will present you with the

Background

In 2004 the Société belge des auteurs compositeurs et éditeurs (SABAM) applied for interim relief against the Belgian ISP Scarlet on the ground that Scarlet’s users had shared musical works contained in SABAM’s repertoire without SABAM’s permission, thereby infringing the copyright in the works.
In 2007 the Brussels Tribunal of First Instance ruled that Scarlet was under an obligation both to block the accounts of its users and to implement a mechanism to filter out infringing content. According to this decision, Scarlet was obliged to make it impossible for its customers to send or receive a P2P file that would include works from SABAM, and faced fines of €2,500 a day if it failed to comply within six months.

In 2008 the Tribunal of First Instance in Brussels decided, on an application for “absolute impossibility of compliance” filed by Scarlet against its decision of 2007, that the Tribunal had been badly informed when it decided that appropriate filtering technologies were available on the market. Scarlet had argued that it was technically impossible or unreasonably expensive to block the P2P traffic and that the solution developed by Audible Magic, a filter mechanism, did not work. Additional technical options were considered and implemented but none of them led to a satisfactory solution.
The Tribunal declared itself not competent to deal with the question as to whether filtering can be made compulsory for ISP and referred the case to the Brussels Court of Appeals.

The Court of Appeals sought a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union on whether EU law and, in particular, the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights, permit a national court to order an ISP to install a system for filtering and blocking electronic communications.

Advocate General’s opinion

Advocate General Cruz Villalón considers that a court order to install a system to

1. filter all data communications passing via Scarlet’s network, in order to detect data which involve a copyright infringement and
2. block communications which actually involve copyright infringement, either at the point at which they are requested or at the point at which they are sent

constitutes a general preventive obligation that would apply in abstracto without determining whether there had been an actual infringement of an intellectual property right or even that an imminent infringement was likely.

This obligation, says the Advocate General, would also delegate the legal and economic responsibility for combating illegal downloading of pirated works to the ISP.

In the light of the above, Cruz Villalón considers that the installation of that filtering and blocking system is a restriction on the right to privacy of communications and the right to protection of personal data, both of which are rights protected under the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Equally important, the deployment of such a system would restrict freedom of information, which is also protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

To say it with Cruz Villalón’s own words: “As far as we can tell, no system of filtering and blocking seems to guarantee, in a manner that is consistent with the requirements of Articles 11 and 52, paragraph 1, of the Charter, that it will block only content specifically identifiable as illicit”.

Consequently, the Advocate General proposes that the Court of Justice should declare that EU law precludes a national court from making an order that an ISP installs such a filtering system.

This is not just a wind, no, it is a real bomb blast!

Nuclear Blast 1945photo © 2005 Thomas Williams | more info (via: Wylio)

 

Consequences

As you might know, the Court of the European Union follows Advocate General’s opinion in about 80 percent of its decisions.
This means there is more than just a fair chance that the Court rules against the requested filtering system.

In fact it is not a simple ruling that we need.
We need the Court to sweep the adversaries of fundamental human rights away and make them “gone with the wind”!

 

Did you like this article? If yes, do not forget to share your thoughts with me!

24 March 2010

Google’s AdWords do not infringe trade marks!

Google AdWords logophoto © 2010 Martin Lafrance | more info (via: Wylio)

One of my blog’s posts that has been attracting a huge user attention and hence traffic is the one relating to the case of Louis Vuitton et al vs Google. I wrote it some months ago with the purpose to cover the highly controversial opinion of Poiares Maduro, being the Advocate General assigned to this case. As many others interested in this matter, I was waiting for the final ruling to be delivered by the European Court of Justice. Well, yesterday was the day – the ruling, having the potential to prove not lesser controversial than the preceding opinion, is out and I will fulfil my promise and discuss it hereunder.

The Court had to deal with the separate proceedings that the three claimants, Louis Vuitton, Viaticum and Mr Thonet had raised against Google in France. All three claims had reached the highest French court – the Cour de Cassation. That court decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the ECJ:

  • Must Article 5 (1) (a) and (b) of  the First Trade Mark Directive (the Directive) and Article 9 (1) (a) and (b) of the Community Trade Mark Regulation (CTMR) be interpreted as meaning that Google who makes available to advertisers keywords reproducing or imitating registered trade marks and arranges by its AdWords to create and favourably display, on the basis of those keywords, advertising links to sites offering infringing goods is using those trade marks in a manner which their proprietor is entitled to prevent?
  • In the event that the trade marks have a reputation, may the proprietor oppose such use under Article 5 (2) of the Directive and Article 9 (1) (c) of the CTMR?
  • In the event that such use does not constitute a use which may be prevented by the trade mark proprietor under either the Directive or the CTMR, may Google be regarded as a “hosting” provider within the meaning of Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive, so that that Google cannot incur liability until it has been notified by the trade mark proprietor of the unlawful use of the sign by the advertiser?

In answering the first question, the Court addressed whether Google (through its AdWords service) used the trade marks in the first place. The Court thereby opined that Google did not and I personally find the Court’s reasoning more than remarkable. Accordingly, not even the fact that Google operates its AdWords “in the course of trade” as it enables advertisers to select signs identical with trade marks as keywords and stores those signs and displays its clients’ ads on the basis thereof suffices to open Google’s dealing to a “use” within the terms of Article 5 of the Directive and Article 9 of the CTRM. This conclusion, the Court holds, is neither called into question by the fact that Google is paid by its clients for the use of those signs.

The Court, at least, grants a cold comfort to the trade marks proprietors by stating that Google’s clients used the signs identical with, or similar to, the proprietors’ trade marks and that, Google allowed its clients to use signs which are identical with, or similar to, trade marks, without itself having used those signs.

The logical questions that demands an answer would be respectively: is a proprietor entitled to prevent a client of Google to use signs which are identical with, or similar to, proprietor’s trade marks? The Court’s opinion thereto is rather restrictive and conveys once again bad news for trade marks proprietors: the exercise of that right must be reserved only to cases in which third party’s use of the sign affects or is liable to affect the functions of the trade mark. A proprietor, accordingly, cannot in general terms oppose the use of a sign identical with the mark if that use is not liable to cause detriment to any of the functions of that mark. With regard to the instant cases, the Court concluded that proprietors cannot prevent third parties from using keywords selected on Google’s AdWords and displayed in connection with goods or services identical with those for which that mark is registered, unless that ad enables an average internet user to ascertain that the goods or services referred to therein originate from a third party.

In answering the second question, the Court denied a “use” of Google within Article 5 (2) of the Directive  or within Article 9 (1) (c) of the CTMR. However, third parties free-riding over well known and reputable trade marks and by this gaining advantages may be considered infringing such trade marks and be very well restrained from doing so.

In answering the third question, the Court found that Google was an information society service provider and was thus entitled to benefit from the liability exemptions guaranteed by the E-Commerce Directive with respect to such providers. The Court further pointed out that the mere facts that Google’s services were subject to payment,  could not have the effect of depriving Google of the above exemptions from liability.

Overall, the Court acquitted Google, so to say, of all charges.

What does the ruling mean for the proprietors of trade marks? Well, I believe there are both, bad but also good news for those. The bad news are that the ruling weakens the proprietors’ exclusive rights in their trade marks. It literally scrapes a layer or even two from the exclusivity to use such trade marks.

The good news, however, consist in the legal certainty that this ruling provides for, as it also regards a row of questions that are of general importance for trade marks law. Put it another way – it is nothing but the eternal dilemma: is the glass half empty or just half full?

 

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16 December 2009

Would you still use Yahoo!, if you knew they sold your personal data at a fixed price?

Have you got an e-mail account on Yahoo! or do you use any of the services, such as messenger, groups or Flickr, provided by the Sunnyvale company? You were certainly aware of Yahoo!’s privacy policy, weren’t you? What you most probably did not know is the fact that Yahoo! surveil your personal data and then offer them to law enforcement at a fixed price. Not bad, huh?

Cryptome, a website hosted in the US that functions as a repository for information about freedom of speech, cryptography, spying, and surveillance got the ball rolling since it has obtained and made Yahoo!’s Compliance Guide for Law Enforcement available on its website. Seemingly, Yahoo! were not amused and served Cryptome with a takedown notice based on the US Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Stretching copyright law for the purposes of preventing access to information is an interesting, albeit not novel, strategy.
By the way, this is the reason why the DMCA and, particularly, its Section 512 has come under criticism – it causes a so called chilling effect on free speech.

So long Cryptome has not complied with Yahoo!’s demand and is still hosting the document in suit. It starts to get exciting!