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French court rules on cost of blocking injunctions

Internet service providers and web browser software companies can be legally bound to pay the costs of blocking injunctions for copyright-infringing websites so long as this does not place an "unbearable sacrifice" on them, France's Court of Cassation has said.03 Aug 2017

The fight against piracy is the responsibility of every organisation involved, the Court said in rejecting an appeal from the ISPs and browser providers. These organisations profit from users accessing infringing sites, and they can afford to cover costs while the unions cannot, it said (link in French).

The French Union des producteurs de cinema, along with other film-industry unions, had asked ISPs and browser providers operating in France to block four websites that were allowing access to copyright material through streaming services or downloads.

The unions also asked for the ISPs and browser companies to be made to cover the costs of the injunctions, as they were unable to do so themselves.

The requests reached the Court of Cassation, France's final appeals court, after being granted by the Paris Tribunal and having appeals overturned twice by the Paris Court of Appeal.

The ISPs and browser suppliers argued that they are not responsible for policing the intellectual property of other bodies, but instead offer "neutral" access to all internet sites. To require them to pay for injunctions of this sort breaches their fundamental freedom to conduct business, and is an unbalanced and inadequate remedy, they said.

Injunctions are designed to protect artists, and to force one type of organisation to pay for them is unfair, and breaches a French constitutional principle under which all citizens stand equal before charges levied by the state, they said.

The Court of Cassation said the ISPs and browser providers are not liable for secondary infringement if they do not know about infringements or if they act quickly to stop them, and that they are not obliged to undertake surveillance work on their users.

However, the Court can require the companies to perform any necessary measures against copyright infringement, including paying costs, it said.