SABAM, a Belgian group that represents the rights of artists, has been fighting with ISPs since 2004. They have long demanded that ISPs do more to combat online piracy. Their first attempt was to try to force ISPs to monitor traffic for unlicensed distribution of copyrighted material and filter it out. After a lengthy legal battle, this plan was rejected by a European court which ruled that ISPs cannot spy on their customers.
SABAM's next plan was to demand a so-called "pirate tax" worth 3.4% of all subscriber fees paid to the ISPs. When the ISPs wouldn't pay up, SABAM filed a lawsuit against several Belgian ISPs in an attempt to extract payment from them. This lawsuit has been dismissed by a Belgian court. The court ruled that ISPs are merely conduits for the flow of data, and cannot be held responsible for any crimes that are committed using their networks. As a result of this ruling, ISPs will not be required to pay royalties to the music industry.
This was a great disappointment to SABAM. They argued that any download of a file should be considered a "public broadcast" for which the copyright holders deserve payments. They consider the ISPs responsible for allowing such "broadcasts" to occur. SABAM also believes that this ruling runs contrary to rulings by the European Court of Justice. SABAM CEO Christophe Depreter had this to say, "the European Court of Justice has frequently stressed that the economic benefit that someone has from relaying works, is often crucial for the decision if this is an act of communication to the public that falls within the exclusive right of the author."
SABAM will decided next week whether it wants to appeal the case or not. However, the very idea of a pirate tax is absurd. By demanding a tax on subscriber fees they would be punishing all internet users, even ones that didn't pirate any content. This is an inherently unjust idea. The ruling to dismiss the lawsuit should be allowed to stand.
Do you think the court made the right decision, or should ISPs be forced to pay money because of illegal activities on their networks? Leave your comments below.