1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
– Article 10, European Convention of Human Rights
On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights rejected a request to hear an appeal by two co-founders of The Pirate Bay who were found guilty in 2009 of facilitating illegal downloading of copyrighted material. Last June, they filed an appeal with the Court, arguing the case violated their freedom of expression, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Over the years, The Pirate Bay has been one of the worst offenders in the distribution of stolen creative works and has made every effort to evade authorities. It consistently ranks in the top 100 websites for traffic globally – and not because it has a sleek design.
The judges acknowledged the case represented a conflict between two competing interests that were both protected by the European Convention of Human Rights.
In the end, they ruled that the distribution of materials (among them copyrighted creative works) for which the two co-founders were convicted “cannot reach the same level as that afforded to political expression and debate” and that “the commercially run TPB amounted to criminal conduct requiring appropriate punishment.”
This case highlights the delicate balance of protecting freedom of expression and the rights of creators in our modern, digital world. As the judges articulated, freedom of expression and intellectual property protections are both important to a democratic society – and one cannot be favored at the expense of the other.
The ability for creative professionals to be protected from online theft and compensated for their work – whether they are musicians, authors, software developers, or filmmakers – depends on maintaining that balance.
This was a good day for creativity.