Swiss Supreme Court Refuses To Order ISPs To Block 'Pirate' Sites

from the silver-lining dept

Site-blocking is now officially a thing in many corners of the world, with rightsholders using the court system to restrict access to sites they complain are "pirate" sites. Between that practice and legislation being introduced by many countries in the full throes of regulatory capture, in which moneyed interests convince politicians to protect their own antiquated modes of business over the interests of the every day citizen, the censoring of the internet and the opening of wide avenues of potential abuse are in full swing.

But this isn't the case everywhere. In Switzerland, for instance, some specifics in how that country operates have led its courts to do things differently. For one, Switzerland is not a member state of the EU, and so it is not bound by the same rules as most other European nations. In addition to that, Swiss copyright law is such that personal downloading or streaming of content, even if unauthorized, is not illegal. Both of those specifics came to a head when film company Praesens-Film asked the courts to order Swisscom, an ISP, to block what it said are pirate sites. The court refused. Praesens-Film decided to appeal the decision until it eventually reached the Swiss Supreme Court. That court, too, has now refused to order the blocking of pirate sites.

“In order for Swisscom to be obliged to block the Internet sites in question, it would need to be a participant in a copyright infringement by third parties, by making a legally relevant contribution to it. That’s not the case,” the Court wrote this week.

The Court agreed that the operators of the sites in question (and the companies making the movies available via hosting services) are breaking the law, but it refused to connect the ISP to those infringements.

“[S]wisscom can not be accused of making a concrete contribution to these copyright infringements. The activity of Swisscom is limited to offering access to the worldwide Internet,” the Court added. “The films are not [released by Swisscom] but released by third parties from unknown locations abroad. These Third parties are neither customers of Swisscom nor are they otherwise in a relationship with them.”

Frankly, this is as it should be. The job of the ISP is to provide internet service. It's right there in the name. It is not the job of the ISP to play copyright police throughout the world and to restrict access to sites based on the claims of an entertainment industry that has showed itself to be wholly inept at determining what is a "pirate" site and what isn't. While the court pointed out that legislators could go ahead and change copyright law in the country, the law as written wouldn't justify this kind of censorship request.

The infringements in such cases are not only carried out by pirate sites, they’re also carried out by the customers of ISPs, who illegally stream or download copyrighted content to their home connections. In Switzerland, however, downloading or streaming content – even when that content is from an unlicensed source – is not illegal.

“[T]here is no copyright infringement on the part of the users,” the Court said. “Copyright law allows this use of published works for personal use, regardless of whether the source is lawful or unlawful. Legislators rejected the copyright revision, which would have prohibited the duplication of works from illegal sources for their own use.”

It would be nice if these versions of copyright laws could be exported throughout the world, if only to disrupt the gross censorship of the internet that has already begun and will only get worse now that that door has been cracked open. While the infringement of copyright sucks for the rightsholder, that pain doesn't justify a tidal wave of site-blocking across a public that, by and large, doesn't commit copyright infringement. It appears that understanding that personal downloading and/or streaming is not something worth addressing in the criminal code is at least one antidote to site-blocking.

Filed Under: copyright, piracy, site blocking, switzerland


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