A Belgian court, the Court of First Instance, has ordered a Belgian Internet service provider to install measures to stop its users from sharing pirated music and videos. The recording industry has been looking for ways to make service providers responsible for illegal file sharing across their networks and has been largely unsuccessful in the United States where service providers enjoy a measure of protection under legislation such as the Digital Millenium Copyright Act which provides for a “safe harbour” subject to certain conditions being fulfilled.
Here in South Africa service providers may also qualify for protection from being sued for illegal file sharing across their networks if the service providers comply with the requirements set out in the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act.
This decision by the Belgian court runs contrary to these two trends and is a worrying decision because it is based on the European Union’s Information Society Directive which is generally regarded as favouring copyright holders like the recording industry. One of the effects of this ruling is to tighten the grip on anyone who could be a participant, knowingly or unknowingly, of illegal file sharing. This may seem like a good thing from the perspective of copyright holders but the danger is that sooner or later there will be an almost violent reaction to this intensified control.
It is very possible that a disruptive technology will appear and will enable a complete disregard for copyright and content licensing as a reaction to the ongoing efforts to control the flow of content, often at odds with what consumers want. It would be far better for these copyright owning interests to explore alternatives to copyright now and begin to implement alternatives as a way of reducing the pressure, allowing users more flexibility to consume and use content and still protect their rights.