Internet service providers do not have to divulge the names of users suspected of illegally sharing music files, Europe's top court has ruled.
The court said member states could change their own rules
Rejecting a complaint by the Spanish music industry, the European Court of Justice said personal data could be withheld in such civil law cases.
Instead, the court said names and addresses should only be given to the police for criminal investigations.
Yet the court added that member states could choose to adopt their own rules.
Personal data protection
In rejecting the complaint of Spanish trade body Promusicae, the court sided with Spain's largest telecoms group, Telefonica.
Europe's music and film companies have so far generally pursued civil proceedings against file-sharers, as they are cheaper than criminal cases and require a lesser burden of proof.
"There are several community directives whose purpose is that the member states should ensure, especially in the information society, effective protection of industrial property, in particular copyright," the court said.
"Such protection cannot, however, affect the requirements of the protection of personal data.
"The directives on the protection of personal data also allow the member states to provide for exceptions to the obligation to guarantee the confidentiality of traffic data."