ISPs across Europe can be instructed to block websites that provide access to pirated material, an EU advocate general said in a non-binding court opinion published yesterday.
Pedro Cruz Villalón said that telcos can be ordered to, in effect, operate as buffers between their subscribers and site operators who infringe copyright laws in Europe by policing access to that content over their networks.
The Court of Justice opinion [PDF] in Luxembourg came after Austria's Supreme Court sought guidance from the EU to determine what role ISPs should play in helping to enforce copyright regulations, following a legal dispute between telco UPC Austria and two film companies in the country.
It asked the advocate general to consider whether an ISP that provides internet access to its customers who then fire up websites that carry illegal material should be seen as an intermediary whose services are used by a third party - such as the operator of a site with pirated content on it.
The advocate general agreed that a telco could be viewed as an intermediary in such a case and said that its services are, in turn, used by copyright infringers.
Courts could therefore slap injunctions on ISPs after weighing "the fundamental rights of the parties", the CoJ opinion said.
“A specific blocking measure concerning a specific website is not disproportionate, in principle," the advocate general added.
Such a block would have to apply only to illegal content found online.
Judges in the Court of Justice are not required to be bound by the advocate general's views. They will deliberate the case before passing judgment over the course of the next few months.
It's rare for the EU's highest court to dismiss such opinions, however.
Here in the UK, orders instructing ISPs to block access to websites carrying access to pirated material have been on the increase, despite the fact that workarounds to such bans are a few clicks away online. ®