Dutch Court Rules MP3 Linking Illegal

An appeals court in The Netherlands ruled on Friday that a Web site posting links to copyrighted MP3 files was breaking the law by promoting copyright infringement. The site, zoekmp3.nl, was taken offline Monday after the court said it would face daily fines of 10,000 euros.

Although zoekmp3.nl did not directly host the MP3 files, the court ruled that facilitating the downloads was also in violation of Dutch law. Similar Web sites have been ruled illegal in Australia and China, and the United States has cracked down on BitTorrent sites, which facilitate distribution by hosting torrent files.

However, deep-linking is still a legal gray area in most countries. In many cases, sites claim they are simply providing directions to copyrighted material and it is up to the user whether or not to access it. But the Dutch appeals court did not buy that argument with zonekmp3.nl.

Techno Design, which operates the site, posted a notice warning users not to infringe on copyrights. "Such a warning ignores the reality that the lion's share of visitors are looking for unauthorized MP3 files," the court said in its decision.

"There has been concern that Holland could become a center of Internet piracy, but this decision shows that the Dutch courts will not tolerate websites building a business out of facilitating copyright infringement," commented General Counsel Geoff Taylor of the International Federation of Phonogram and Videogram Producers (IFPI).

It is not clear whether the ruling will affect other MP3 and file sharing sites operating in the country. After a raid by police last month, Swedish BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay relocated its servers to The Netherlands. Swedish officials said they were collecting evidence as to whether the site was breaking copyright laws.

The case against zokemp3.nl was brought by Dutch anti-piracy organization BREIN. An initial ruling was made in favor of the MP3 site, but the appeals court overturned that decision. Techno Design now must also pay damages, which have yet to be determined.

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