A British High Court ruling will likely open the door to stricter online copyright violation penalties. But digital rights groups and the plaintiffs say the decision will put an unprecedented burden on private ISPs.
The Digital Economy Act goes after illegal downloaders
The British High Court upheld on Wednesday the Digital Economy Act (DEA), a piece of legislation passed at the end of last year designed to combat the unauthorized downloading of music, films and other digital media.
British Internet service providers TalkTalk and BT had challenged the measure arguing that the Act was not in line with European Union law, unnecessarily impacts users' privacy and forces ISPs to police copyright online infringement.
In a statement posted to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's website, the British government welcomed Justice Kenneth Parker's ruling.
Government, recording industry pleased
"We are pleased that the Court has recognized these measures as both lawful and proportionate," the statement said. "The government remains committed to tackling online piracy and so will set out the next steps for implementation of the Digital Economy Act shortly."
Anti-piracy measures are appearing across Europe
The DEA is the latest in a series of anti-piracy measures that have begun to spring up around Europe. In France's, a three strikes law, known as Hadopi, took effect last year.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, a recording industry trade group based in London, called the decision "welcome news" in a statement sent to the British newspaper The Telegraph.
"We are optimistic of further positive legislative developments in other jurisdictions, including the European Union," the organization said.
Potential shift in copyright enforcement
However, various European digital rights and free speech groups said by putting the burden of copyright enforcement on industry significantly changes legal precedent in the UK.
"The [Digital Economy Act] will fail to deliver what is expected of it. What both [the DEA and France's Hadopi] will achieve is a less open Internet, less innovation and a poorer Europe," Joe McNamee of European Digital Rights wrote in an e-mail to Deutsche Welle.
He added that the advocate general of the European Court Of Justice ruled last week that European courts cannot order ISPs to filter content.
The DEA could change whose job it is to enforce copyrights online
Open Rights Group, a British digital advocacy group, wrote in a blog post Wednesday that the British court's ruling would significantly change legal standards of copyright.
"The potential precedent of formally shifting the costs of copyright enforcement away from private owners and onto third parties could create future legislative requests to all kinds of services, manufacturers and individuals," the organization wrote.
Plaintiffs may appeal this decision
In a statement e-mailed to Deutsche Welle, a spokesperson for BT, said that the company was disappointed with this decision.
"We are reviewing this long and complex judgment," the statement read. "Protecting our customers is our number one priority and we will consider our options once we have fully understood the implications for our customers and businesses."
In a corporate statement, TalkTalk, the other plaintiff, expressed similar disapproval of the ruling, saying that it may pursue further appeals in the UK or even the European Court of Justice.
"Though we may have lost this particular battle, we will continue fighting to defend our customers' rights against this ill-judged legislation," TalkTalk said in a statement e-mailed to Deutsche Welle.
Author: Cyrus Farivar
Editor: Sean Sinico