Court bans copyright holders' access to details of users sharing on BitTorrent
In some European countries illegal downloads of copyrighted material, such as movies have resulted in a contact from a law agency for copyright infringement. These letters then demand compensation, usually in the range of some thousands of Euros. This has been commonplace in Finland as well.
On Monday June 12th 2017 the Finnish Market Court gave a ruling that telecom operators should not provide their customers' contact details to copyright holders. In the specific case, the court was asked to give permission to access based on a thousand occurences where a movie was shared on the BitTorrent network for a duration of one second.
In the ruling the court denied access to the information, because the provided data could not be used to determine the actual effect of an individuals' activity to the copyrighted material - the data did not have any information on how often the network was used or for how long.
The decision was unanymously confirmed in a special session with seven judges. This is commonly used in cases where the ruling is thought to be of significant meaning and can be used to define common principles in the future.
The asked details would have been used to send letters for copyright infringement. In Finland there have been at least tens of thousands of these letters sent. The letters urge to pay the fine, or face potentially expensive litigation. The wording used in these letters is strong and intimidating to someone uninitiated in copyright law.
Going forward, more evidence is required
In the ruling the court focused on the significance of the activity. The EU court has earlier deemed even small transfers of copyrighted data as significant, but now they have changed their line so that the activity needs to be "significant" to warrant handing over personal data.
Even after this ruling the copyright holders can ask for access to contact details of infringing network users, but they will need have proof of illegal filesharing and it's scale. In other words the copyright owner must be able to evidence of the network users' long term activities on sharing copyrighted material.
For most consumers the positive effect is that this should target users who gain a significant financial gain from copyright infringements. Up until this point these letters have mostly been targeted at regular households that are arguably easy to intimidate and have the means to pay these fees.