The European Commission issued a report in late December (I was on holiday at the time) that contains some worrying implications for internet service and hosting providers.
In Europe, ISPs and hosting services enjoy limited liability for any naughty file-sharing carried on by their customers, as they are classified as intermediaries. They are supposed to take down any unlawful content they might unwittingly be hosting, but they are not generally held responsible for what goes on over their networks.
December's report (PDF alert), a procedural update on the application of 'Directive 2004/48/EC on the enforcement of intellectual property rights', notes the Commission's alarm at "the sheer volume and financial value of intellectual property rights infringements" (not all of which are online, but a sizeable chunk of the report is devoted to the internet). The fun bit of the report notes that "the currently available legislative and non-legislative instruments are not powerful enough to combat online infringements of intellectual property rights effectively", adding: "Given intermediaries' favourable position to contribute to the prevention and termination of online infringements, the Commission could explore how to involve them more closely."
I'm sure ISPs and hosting providers can't wait to be more closely involved with the Commission's anti-'piracy' drive.
Then there's this, in the report's concluding section:
The main conclusion drawn from this first evaluation of the Directive is that the Directive has had a substantial and positive effect on the protection of intellectual property rights by civil law in Europe. However, it has become apparent that the Directive was not designed with the challenge posed by the Internet to the enforcement of intellectual property rights in mind.
Looks like we have an incoming revision of European intellectual property law. The Commission wants feedback by the end of March, after which... we shall see.