The European Court of Justice, Europe's highest court, has ruled that social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter do not need to install anti-piracy software as part of their services.
The ruling was made in a landmark case brought by Belgian music royalties company, Sabam, against the website Netlog.
The ruling has been welcomed by groups who advocate the broad use of the internet who have previously warned that the freedom of the internet is at stake from the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA).
Netlog has millions of users hit its site every day, and some do share illegal copies of music and videos.
In ruling in the case the European Court stated that requiring such sites to operate an anti-piracy filter would require them to monitor content at all times, called 'active observation'. The ECJ decided against such a requirement, stating that it would harm the hosting providers' freedom to conduct its business, and could also impinge on users' right to freedom of expression.
"Accordingly, such an injunction would result in a serious infringement of the freedom of the hosting service provider to conduct its business since it would require that hosting service provider to install a complicated, costly, permanent computer system at its own expense," said the ECJ judgment.
"The injunction could potentially undermine freedom of information, since that system might not distinguish adequately between unlawful content and lawful content, with the result that its introduction could lead to the blocking of lawful communications," it continued.
The judgment will now form a legal precedent in courts across the EU, including in the UK.
"It's good to see courts promoting our rights by swatting away plans to snoop on people's use of social networks," said Peter Bradwell, the Open Rights Group campaigner.
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