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EU supremes: ISPs don't always have to finger filesharers

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The European supreme court has ruled that lower authorities are not compelled to order disclosure of file-sharers' identities by ISPs in civil lawsuits. The decision will hamper the efforts of rights-holder bodies to clamp down on digital copying through the courts.

The decision was handed down today in a dispute between Promusicae, the Spanish music-rights association, and Iberian heavyweight telco Telefonica. The ISP contended that it did not have to disclose its customers' identities in civil - rather than criminal - proceedings. Promusicae had sought the names of Telefonica users who had illegally downloaded music on KaZaA, so as to launch civil suits against them.

"Community law does not require the member states, in order to ensure the effective protection of copyright, to lay down an obligation to disclose personal data in the context of civil proceedings," according to the court ruling as reported by Reuters.

Music industry and other likeminded copyright groups would much prefer to mount civil actions, as they are cheaper and have a lower burden of proof than criminal ones. But if ISPs don't have to disclose their customers' names based on IP logs, this becomes very difficult.

That said, national judiciaries are free to establish local rules in favour of civil disclosure if they want to: the EU court has merely said that this isn't compulsory under European law.

"The directives on the protection of personal data also allow the member states to provide for exceptions to the obligation to guarantee the confidentiality of traffic data," the court stated, leaving the door open for other countries to let rights-holder bodies go the easier civil route. ®

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