CEU Action Risks Crippling ISPs, Black Says

May 11, 1999

Washington, D.C., May 11, 1999 –  Citing the devastating consequences of assigning content responsibility to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) is calling upon the Clinton Administration to urge European Union (EU) countries to reject legislation that would hold providers liable for transmissions of illegal Web site content.

CCIA President Ed Black said that the measure, which was preliminarily approved by the European Parliament last week, has the potential to impede global e-commerce by making ISPs, both in the EU and abroad, responsible for content “if they [are] in a position to know” that illegal copyrighted or pornographic materials are being transmitted through their service.  Recent amendments to the bill would require an ISP to adopt technological mechanisms such as encryption and watermarking to track illegal transmissions.

“If the EU sets a precedent on ISP liability with this unbalanced approach, disastrous consequences may result for the e-commerce industry,” Black said.

“It’s unwise to force private companies to become Internet policemen.  Given the nature of the global Internet, for one group of countries to devise a set of rules that enforces liability upon providers elsewhere in the world is violating the spirit of the recent World Intellectual Property Organization Treaties.”

Noting that even the smallest ISPs host thousands of pages of information that are updated daily, Black said it would be unreasonable to mandate liability for entities whose principal activity is not oriented to content certification.  Adopting a measure that focuses on “vicarious liability would generally produce a chilling effect on the entire e-commerce industry and likely result in higher consumer costs as well as limited access to information.

“Even if an ISP were in a position to monitor the volumes of information on the Internet, it would be nearly impossible for that company to recognize immediately that certain content is either illegal or an infringement on copyright protections.”

Before it may take effect, the proposed legislation must now be approved by the Council of Ministers representing the 15 EU member states.


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