​EU court to decide final fate of website-blocking tactics by ISPs

171257957-1.jpg (Image via CNET/CBS Interactive)

The Dutch Supreme Court has referred a case to the highest court in Europe, which will determine if internet providers can be forced to impose site-blocking measures.

In a brief statement, the court said it followed the advice of the European court’s advocate general, who earlier this year said the top court in Europe bloc should take up the case.

If the European Court of Justice rules on the case, it could set a precedent for other countries in the 28-member state bloc.

A ruling could take years to be handed down, however.

The case began in 2010 when industry group Stichting Brein asked a lower Dutch court to order internet providers to block access to Pirate Bay. The court initially ruled against the industry group, but after appeals the case wound up at the country’s Supreme Court.

The Luxembourg-based court has been asked to rule on two specific points: if the Pirate Bay infringes European copyright laws; and to what extent a local court can order internet providers to block access to sites considered illegal by the nation state.

“The judgment is very significant, as for the first time the highest European Union court will now have to decide on the legal possibilities of blocking peer-to-peer websites,” said Joris van Manen, whose firm represents Brein, speaking to the Reuters news agency.

The case sparked a long-standing debate across Europe over freedom of expression and censorship on the internet.

Earlier this year, leading experts, including the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye, said site-blocking and kill switches “can never be justified under human rights law.”

This won’t be the first time the Luxembourg court has taken up a case over The Pirate Bay — nor has it always gone in the plaintiff’s favor.

In 2011, the court ruled in a near decade-old case that national courts cannot order internet providers to filter out copyright-infringing sites from their networks.

Researchers have questioned the efficacy of forcing internet providers to impose site-blocking measures.

A paper from the European Commission’s research arm earlier this year said site-blocking to prevent piracy saw a “significant but short-lived” decline in file-sharing, adding that only a fraction of users turned to licensed platforms following a site blockade going into effect.