Until April 10 2014, illegal downloads did not exist in the Netherlands. Anyone could legally download music, films and books without incurring a penalty. However, on that date the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that the download ban would take effect in the Netherlands immediately.
The uploading of files protected by copyright was already considered to be unlawful. The loss of income suffered by copyright holders as a result of such downloading was compensated by the private copying levy. On blank media carriers such as DVDs and CDs, as well as on MP3 players and laptops, a fixed tax was levied. The revenue from this tax was then distributed to copyright holders.
Private copying levy
The manufacturers of the media carriers objected to the levy, as they felt that the losses suffered by copyright holders as a result of illegal downloading should not be offset by the levy. Rather, they felt that the private copying levy should compensate only lawful copies. The manufacturers took the case to the Dutch Supreme Court, which referred it to the ECJ.
The ECJ held that the Dutch application of the private copying levy violated the EU Copyright Directive, because the levy did not distinguish between private copies from lawful and unlawful sources. According to the court, this violated the functioning of the European internal market.
The court also felt that the existing application of the levy affected consumers who downloaded material from legal sources. Clearly, sales of DVDs and laptops do not take into account where the buyer obtains his or her downloads from. In the ECJ's opinion, this situation was undesirable.
End to downloading
The ECJ ruled that the Netherlands was not entitled to introduce a law permitting copies from illegal sources. This finding established the ban on downloading from illegal sources. Therefore, it is no longer possible to download a film legally from one of the many torrent sites; the term ‘illegal downloading’ has now acquired meaning in the Netherlands.
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