Home & Office

Can ISPs police illegal P2P downloads?

A Belgium court ruled that ISPs have to take steps to thwart peer-to-peer networks and piracy. Good luck delivering on that one.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

A Belgium court ruled that ISPs have to take steps to thwart peer-to-peer networks and piracy. Good luck delivering on that one.

The ruling could be significant since it sets a precedent in the European Union, but there are a few nuts and bolts to figure out on the technology side.

How exactly will an ISP turn these P2P networks off? How many customers will be alienated? And TorrentFreak raises the biggest question of all: How will an ISP determine a legal packet of data from one that infringes on a copyright? I don't have the answers ready, but that's OK--rest assured the Belgium court doesn't either. It's presently unclear how this ISP (Scarlet) is going to conform to the court's ruling in six months. Sure a network provider can prioritize packets--say a large video file vs. a Word doc--but it not clear whether data can be examined en route.

Predictably the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) "warmly welcomed" that ruling. The IFPI statement comes a day after the group noted that music sales are getting hammered by piracy.

Here's the IFPI's take:

A court in Belgium has confirmed that an Internet Service Provider must take responsibility for stopping illegal file-sharing on its network. The ruling is the first of its kind in Europe and, since it implements EU legislation, it sets an important precedent in the fight against piracy internationally.

The judgment is warmly welcomed by the international recording industry, which has been pressing for action by ISPs to curb piracy on their networks.

The judge said that ISPs have the technical means at their disposal to either block or filter copyright-infringing material on P2P networks and gave the ISP Scarlet (formerly Tiscali) six months to implement such measures.

The judgment pointed in particular to the filtering technology developed by Audible Magic. It also referred to six other possible solutions to block the traffic of unlicensed music, which are highlighted in an experts’ report commissioned by the court. This is the first case in Europe that has examined in detail the technologies that are available to block or filter copyright-infringing traffic on file-sharing networks.

The Belgian court was ruling on a case brought by the body representing authors and composers in Belgium, SABAM, against the ISP Tiscali.

IFPI Chairman and CEO John Kennedy said: “This is an extremely significant ruling which bears out exactly what we have been saying for the last two years - that the internet’s gatekeepers, the ISPs, have a responsibility to help control copyright-infringing traffic on their networks. The court has confirmed that the ISPs have both a legal responsibility and the technical means to tackle piracy. This is a decision that we hope will set the mould for government policy and for courts in other countries in Europe and around the world.

But short of turning off access by all P2P sites it's unclear how this ruling will be carried out. Anyone out there have a clue how an ISP could examine every packet from a P2P network, check for copyright infringements and then pass it along?

Editorial standards