A Dutch judge ruled on Tuesday that Internet service providers would not have to hand over names or addresses of customers who may be illegally swapping films, music and other copyright-protected files.
Brein, a Dutch organization representing 52 media and entertainment companies, had acquired unique computer identification numbers, so-called IP addresses, of file swappers and requested personal details behind these IP addresses from five large Internet service providers.
The service providers -- UPC, Essent, Tiscali, Wanadoo and KPN -- refused to hand over the details, arguing that only a criminal trial court could demand them.
The case was subsequently brought to a civil court in the city of Utrecht, where a judge ruled that although he was allowed to order the ISPs to submit the personal data, the plaintiffs had not met the necessary conditions to warrant such an order.
"Brein has sought help from a research company, which has looked at the shared folders on computers of the file swappers. In that process it may have accessed private files," the judge said in the court ruling.
"The judge does not deem this correct, because according to Dutch law, privacy is insufficiently protected in the United States," the ruling said.
Christiaan Alberdingk Thijm, the attorney for the five ISPs, welcomed the ruling as "an important victory for the privacy of Internet users.
"Private organizations cannot start sniffing around on someone else's computer and collect data," he added.
Brein manager Tim Kuik said he would take his case to a higher court. Media companies on the list of plaintiffs included EMI, Universal and Sony Music.