Germany's Federal Court of Justice has upheld a legal ruling that effectively obliges Internet service providers to block access to copyright infringing websites in instances where the site's operators and hosts are unidentifiable.
German collection society GEMA immediately welcomed what it called a "long overdue landmark decision" that "points the way forward for protecting the rights of authors in the digital music market."
"Finally we have legal clarity on the permissibility of blocking access to websites illegally offering copyrighted music works on a massive scale. This is a major step forward in the fight against Internet piracy," said GEMA CEO Dr. Harald Heker in a statement following today's (Nov. 26) verdict.
The Federal Court's ruling is the culmination of a long-running legal case in which GEMA sued Germany's largest telecoms company Deutsche Telekom for refusing to block the access to the now defunct website 3dl.am, which provided access to a large catalogue of downloadable copyright protected music.
That action was dismissed by judges on the grounds that GEMA had not taken all available measures to identify 3dl.am's operators when it was up and running. Today's court hearing also saw a separate case brought about by Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music against Telefonica's O2 Deutschland rejected. In that instance, judges dismissed the music companies request for O2 Deutschland to block access to peer-to-peer file-sharing network goldesel.to because the plaintiffs did not make enough efforts to prevent the copyright violations.
"The company that provides access to the internet [will only be liable for blocking access to an infringing site] if the rights holder has initially made reasonable efforts to take action against those parties who committed the infringement itself, such as the owner of the website or the host provider. Only when recourse to these parties fails or lacks any prospect of success [is the access provider obliged to act]," was the court's verdict.
Nevertheless, GEMA is claiming the ruling as an important victory that theoretically opens the door to the possibility of website blocking in Germany, bringing the world's third biggest music market in line with its European neighbors. Last year, the European Court of Justice ruled that web blocking is fundamentally permissible, but the exact details would be determined by national courts.
"We are aware that blocking websites is a drastic measure," said GEMA's Heker. "However, if we have no defense against operators of these infringing sites, we must at least make such illegal activity more difficult by blocking the sites in question."