Rightsholders Sue ISPs for Selling Internet Access

By Drew Wilson

Rightsholders have said for years that the Internet is little more than a vehicle for “stolen” merchandise. Still, few rightsholders these days are willing to take such a direct approach to stop file-sharing as Sabam has recently. The Belgium rightsholder organization is suing ISPs for selling access to the Internet without paying royalties to copyright holders.

The report comes from PCWorld which offers the following on the subject:

Sabam wants the court to rule that Internet access providers Belgacom, Telenet and Voo should pay 3.4 percent of their turnover in copyright fees, because they profit from offering high speed Internet connections that give users easy access to copyright protected materials, the collecting organization said in a news release Tuesday.

Since 2000, revenue generated from copyright levies imposed on physical media have declined by 54 percent, Sabam said. This “huge loss” has not been compensated by collections from online services like iTunes, YouTube and Spotify, it added.

ISPs over the years have profited from the switch to online media consumption and they have offered unlimited Internet access with very high download speeds in advertising campaigns, Sabam said. “The Internet access providers have never paid copyright levies for this activity. They hide behind their status as intermediary, without taking responsibility for the information transmitted over their networks,” the organization said.

However, the profit derived from Internet subscriptions in part comes from the intensive use of protected repertoire, Sabam said. Therefore the ISPs should start paying levies, it said. Because negotiations showed that the ISPs are not willing to start paying those levies voluntarily, Sabam decided to sue the three biggest Belgian ISPs in the Brussels Court of First Instance on April 12.

Of course, this raises a whole host of interesting questions. One question might be that if ISPs are forced to pay royalties to rightsholders, does that mean that the users who download copyrighted material online without permission be excluded from any potential litigation thanks to the activity being compensated by the ISP? Ironically, this is an idea that has been proposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation back in 2008. Of course, it’s unlikely rightsholders would be willing to take that approach and, instead, opt for suing individual file-sharers for the activity that would be compensated for.

Another question this raises is whether or not rightsholders from other countries would be looking into this approach and consider following suit and demanding that ISPs pay a levy as well. We’ve certainly seen that with respect to the Three Strikes law which arguably started in France and spread to other countries like South Korea, New Zealand and, by extension, the United States. Of course, that question will only be answered by time if rightsholders win this particular case.

It would be incredibly unlikely that this sort of thing would occur in the United States. For that to happen, the safe Harbour provisions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) would have to be completely scrapped first. The chances of that happening is pretty much zero as there doesn’t seem to be any sign that any politician is even considering this as far as we can tell.

Still, it’s likely that ISPs in several other countries are hoping this isn’t the start of a trend. It would set in motion some very ugly legal and political battles that just don’t seem necessary.

Note: This story was originally published on ZeroPaid earlier today.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85

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