Netherlands moves to block access to file-sharing sites

Binnenhof, States-General of the Netherlands

The Dutch government is moving to crack down on illegal file-sharing, but it’s going after Internet service providers rather than individual file-sharers. A new proposal, due to be submitted to the Dutch Parliament by the middle of the year, would make it illegal to provide access to Web sites and services that facilitate copyright infringement. If ISPs fail to comply, they would be subject to penalties of €10,000 a day, up to a maximum of €250,000, with monies to be paid to BREIN, a Dutch anti-piracy consortium that represents major entertainment companies.

Earlier in January, a Dutch court ordered ISPs XS4ALL and Ziggo to block access to the well-known torrent-tracking site The Pirate Bay by February 1. Ziggo plans to comply with the ruling for the time being, but has indicated it intends to launch an appeal, arguing that forcing ISPs to act as content police opens the door to broader Internet censorship. Consumer and privacy advocates have warned the legislation requiring ISPs to block access to particular sites isn’t very much different than the Internet censorship regimes in place in countries like Iran and China.

BREIN has indicated it intends to lodge similar complaints against Dutch ISPs UPC, KPN, and T-Mobile—between those three ISPs plus the two already targeted for action account for over 80 percent of the Dutch market.

The ruling—and the proposed law following it—does not criminalize individuals’ use of file-sharing networks. Currently, downloading material from file-sharing networks was covered under a home-use exception for end users, although uploading copyrighted material to file-sharing networks is illegal.

However, the legal action (and law’s) intention is to drive consumers towards legitimate sources of digital content by eliminating easy access to pirated versions via file-sharing Web sites. The Netherlands’ existing legal framework that essentially protects individual downloaders from any negative consequences of piracy means that the country is generally considered to have a higher use of pirate sites and file-sharing services than many other European countries. In November 2011, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimated about 27 percent of European Internet users download unlicensed content from file-sharing services; in the Netherlands, some estimates from firms like Considerati put that rate as high as 40 percent.

[Image: Patrick Rasenberg]