The European Court of Justice laid down a law interpretation today that could have a profound impact on the prosecution of alleged pirates in Sweden.
The ECJ said today (translate) that Sweden's law does not provide any barriers for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to hand over the data of alleged pirates when rightsholders, trying to prosecute those folks, request it. The move could pave the way for Sweden's highest court to force ISPs to hand over user data upon request whenever a person is suspected of pirating music, movies, e-books, or any other form of entertainment.
Those on both sides of the argument have debated the legality of sharing IP addresses with copyright holders since 2009, when the so-called IPRED law went into effect in Sweden. The statute provides for ISPs to reveal a person's IP address whenever he or she is charged with pirating multimedia. Under the law, a court must decide if an IP address should be released, and that can only happen if rightsholders head to court and argue their case.
The law nearly immediately became a controversial issue when Swedish ISP ePhone in 2009 balked at providing user information to five book publishers who went to court and convinced a judge that some of ePhone's subscribers were pirating their content. After taking its case to the Sweden Court of Appeal, ePhone received a stay on the order, and the case made its way to the country's highest court. That court quickly kicked the case up to the ECJ, which made its ruling today.
That said, this isn't necessarily the final nail in ePhone's coffin. The European high court only made an interpretation and has sent the case back down to the Sweden Supreme Court. It's now that court's turn to hand over a final ruling on the matter.