In Europe, Privacy Increasingly Balances IP Enforcement Rights

For good or bad, the United States has become zealous about IP rights. 

In fact, when trade organizations seek to punish the US, they relax enforcement of its IP rights in other countries.

In Europe, however, privacy increasingly balances IP enforcement efforts. While the US seeks to establish a national head of IP enforcement, European countries now have directors of data privacy. This week, these differences manifested themselves in a string of rulings in Europe which set privacy as a counterweight to IP enforcement.

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg has ruled that Internet service providers in the EU cannot disclose the names of suspected file-sharers to aid organizations like the RIAA or MPAA in law suits. 

The case was Promusicae, a Spanish organization that represents rights holders, vs. Telefónica, the Spanish national telecommunications carrier. Promusicae sought the court’s order to force Telefónica to disclose the identities and physical addresses of customers of its Internet service.

The court ruled, “Community law does not require the member states, in order to ensure the effective protection of copyright, to lay down an obligation to disclose personal data in the context of civil proceedings”.

While the European Court recognized the need for IP rights enforcement, it recommended that countries balance “the right to respect for private life on the one hand and the rights to protection of property and to an effective remedy on the other.”

This ruling substantiated a finding by the EU’s Advocate General, who last year favored protecting privacy rights over the enforcement rights of copyright holders in civil cases. He contended that while criminal cases readily outweighed privacy concerns, that civil cases often did not.

Meanwhile, according to Wired, Germany’s data protection commissioner, Peter Scharr, told a European Parliament hearing on online data protection that an IP address “has to be regarded as personal data.”  Such ruling may not bode well for Google’s merger with DoubleClick, or the MPAA’s efforts to restrict illegal file sharing.

However it does create an expectation of privacy among EU citizens, which is increasingly absent or forgotten about in the US.

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