Slyck, P2PNet and Torrentfreak are reporting today about a European legal case that could have implications on the way file sharers are treated on the continent. From Slyck:

"European file-sharers - or at least those residing in the European Union - are on the cusp of a major victory against the powers that be. Advocate General Juliane Kokott has submitted her option to the European Court of Justice that Spanish copyright traffic cop Promusicae is not entitled to the identities of alleged P2P pirates. (...) Organizations such as Promusicae could find their ability to pursue alleged file-sharers severely hampered, considering that a majority of these cases fall under civil jurisdiction."

This isn't entirely correct. Copyright infringement can be pursued as a criminal as well as a civil matter in most European countries, just like it is the case in the US. Copyright holders prefer civil litigation simply because those cases can be settled outside of the court - and most people tend to settle for a few thousand bucks rather than fight.

Rights holders have been looking for ways to expedite these civil cases since they started suing P2P users. Specifically, they'd like to be able to give a list of IP addresses to an ISP and demand names and addresses in return, which is exactly what the music industry tried to make the Spanish ISP Telefonica do in this case.

Telefonica refused, and the case ended up in court, where it went all the way to the Court of Justice of the European Communities. The Advocate General of this court now sided with Telefonica.

Most of the European file sharing cases aren't fought this way though. The German music industry for instance has initiated more than 20.000 criminal cases against alleged copyright infringers. Record labels use these criminal cases as a tool to get the identity of the alleged file sharers and then additionally slap them with a civil case.

The future doesn't look so good for European file sharers either: The EU council is working on a new copyright directive that would treat file sharers like commercial bootleggers.

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