Italian companies may not spy on individuals who engage in illegal file-sharing, according to a controversial new ruling.

The ruling of Francesco Pizzetti, president of the official Italian body for Guaranteeing the Protection of Private Data, follows the attempts of a German record label, Peppermint, which last year began using the Swiss computer firm Logistep to gather the IP addresses of at least 300 Italians who were illegally sharing files.

An Italian magistrate granted the companies permission to obtain the street addresses of the file-sharers from Internet service providers and send them registered letters, inviting them to destroy the files in question or else face hefty fines.

Italian consumer rights groups protested against the decision and the case was brought to the attention of the Guarantor, who handed down the ruling.

Italian consumer groups have greeted the decision, but Italy's record labels have expressed their disappointment.

"The whole issue of P2P needs to be addressed in Italy, but this particular decision is very strange," Enzo Mazza, president of major representative body FIMI, tells "As far as we're concerned, it's as if a person is apprehended for shop-lifting and the authorities, instead of investigating the thief, investigate the police officers who made the arrest."