German Court Holds Internet User Responsible For Passing On Unknown, Encrypted File

from the knowing-the-unknowable dept

A natural response to the increasingly harsh enforcement of laws against unauthorized sharing of copyright files is to move to encrypted connections. It seems like a perfect solution: nobody can eavesdrop, and so nobody can find out what you are sharing. But as TorrentFreak reports, a German court has just dealt a blow to this approach.

The case involves RetroShare, which describes itself thus:

RetroShare is a Open Source cross-platform, Friend-2-Friend and secure decentralised communication platform.

It lets you to securely chat and share files with your friends and family, using a web-of-trust to authenticate peers and OpenSSL to encrypt all communication. RetroShare provides filesharing, chat, messages, forums and channels

That sounds pretty safe, but TorrentFreak explains why it wasn’t in the current case:

This week a Hamburg court ruled against a RetroShare user who passed on an encrypted transfer that turned out to be a copyrighted music file. The user in question was not aware of the transfer, and merely passed on the data in a way similar to how TOR works.

The court, however, ruled that the user in question, who was identified by the copyright holder, is responsible for passing on the encrypted song.

The judge ordered an injunction against the RetroShare user, who is now forbidden from transferring the song with a maximum penalty of €250,000 or a six month prison term. Since RetroShare traffic is encrypted this means that the user can no longer use the network without being at risk.

That’s because the user can’t know what’s in an encrypted file passing through his or her system, and thus cannot guarantee that it is not the song in question. In truth, this situation is partly the user’s own fault:

RetroShare derives its security from the fact that all transfers go through “trusted friends” who users themselves add. In this case, the defendant added the anti-piracy monitoring company as a friend, which allowed him to be “caught.”

But even if the court case in Hamburg is a result of fairly exceptional circumstances, it creates an awful precedent: that German users are responsible for encrypted contents passing through their connection, even though there is no way they can know what they might contain. Unfortunately, this is of a piece with a previous ruling by a German court that people can be fined for what others do with their open wifi connections, regardless of whether they knew what was going on.

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Companies: retroshare

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Comments on “German Court Holds Internet User Responsible For Passing On Unknown, Encrypted File”

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78 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I am from germany and the more cases like that get absurd rulings, the more I think that even having any potential data connection is starting to become an unbearable liability.

I mean, being liable for encrypted connections despite not able to know the exact contents of the connection is madness. I mean, who knows exactly what installed software is sending out to who knows where in an encrypted fashion? what if the software gets compromised by malware?

Even worse, considering that here an old women that didn’t even have a computer was found guilty for copyright infringement, what stops these parasites from simply claiming copyright infringement, just because there was some encrypted communication going on?

how are you going to defend against this?

And nobody tell me they wouldn’t do that. these bastards will sink as low as physically possible to extort people who did nothing wrong, or in some cases even nothing at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is not so much about the money as scaring people away from sharing any files over the Internet. The music industry sees the Internet as a threat to its control over the distribution of music and piracy is a convenient excuse for engaging in terror tactics to try and stop ALL file sharing over the Internet. If it disrupts Independent artists from distributing their works it is helping to disrupt the competition to their business.

Milton Freewater says:

A blow?

I don’t know if I’d call this a dealt blow … in the long run, on a global scale, this position is unsustainable.

Rightsholders walk a fine line. They have to defend their copyrighted material in a pitch black, Wild West arena without provoking a response that overturns or devalues the rights they have. The German’s court’s positon will never be tolerated by the global public even if the consequence was that all copyright was abolished (and nobody wants that, not even the pro-piracy trolls).

DannyB (profile) says:

Re: A blow?

> Rightsholders walk a fine line. They have to defend their copyrighted
> material in a pitch black, Wild West arena without provoking
> a response that overturns or devalues the rights they have.

Um, NO. They don’t have to.

If communication is in pitch black, then it is none of their business because they do not and cannot know what people are communicating — and this is how it should be. I can speak in private with someone about anything we agree to speak about.

No response overturns their rights if they are actual rights. Only they themselves can devalue their rights, not the response. I think they can devalue their content, but not devalue their rights. And they are very hard at work devaluing their content by not making it available at a reasonable price.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: A blow?

The German’s court’s positon will never be tolerated by the global public even if the consequence was that all copyright was abolished (and nobody wants that, not even the pro-piracy trolls).

Actually I want all copyright to be abolished.

(Although I would not want to make plagiarism legal and I would still want contract law to allow works to be created in return for a one-off payment.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Security FAIL

RetroShare derives its security from the fact that all transfers go through “trusted friends”

Security FAIL: The ?Insider Threat? is a classic. You can read all about it at the latest network security sites!

Like right here, for example.

( History is replete with conspirators and revolutionaries betrayed by their “trusted friends”. )

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Security FAIL

Exactly. The most vicious account “hacking” I’ve ever personally encountered was a guy who thought he could trust his cousin with his password. Family is family, blood is thicker than water, etc, etc.

The problem was, the cousin naturally trusted his own father. And the account-owner’s uncle thought it would be hilariously funny to go into the account, delete or give away everything the guy had in there, then login to the forums as his nephew and very profanely come out of the closet as a homosexual pedophile.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: liability

This is a good idea. Users of these private groups just need to copyright the encryption public keys. The act of decrypting the message using the public key is evidence of unauthorized distribution. So if anyone brings the case to court sue the company back for their unauthorized distribution of your copyrighted private key. Damages are equal to whatever they sue for plus make this a web application enivronmnet and then press for criminal prosecution for unlawfull access to a system environment. Also use any portion of identification (such as health info) within the public key and you might have a HIPAA violation to report as well. This could become a nighmare if setup correctly.

out_of_the_blue says:

The encryption itself is the "crime", see?

So, pirates, tell me again how you’ll dodge deep packet inspection and REALLY draconian enforcement? — You can’t. That’s why you’d better rely on making the moral case (against all being spyed on, including by, say, Google…), not dodging surveillance.

Now I’ll read the other comments, but I ain’t too hopeful…

MrWilson says:

Re: The encryption itself is the "crime", see?

You apparently don’t understand the history of cryptography.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_cryptography

Go ahead and read up. I’ll wait here.

The history is a cat and mouse game. When someone creates an “unbreakable” method, someone else breaks it. Then someone else creates a new “unbreakable” method, and someone else again breaks it. Repeat ad infinitum. This will be the case with deep packet inspection.

Heck, there’s already a way around it that is already a significant source of file-sharing:

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121004/12122520595/why-mpaa-cant-win-hearts-minds-public-file-sharing-is-mainstream.shtml.

People already think it’s acceptable to share with friends and family. Everyone is friends of friends of everyone else from a Kevin Bacon point of view.

silverscarcat says:

Re: The encryption itself is the "crime", see?

I would rather be a pirate than a copyright apologist like you.

BTW, ootb, did you pay attention to the Elections in November?

Look what happened in Washington and Colorado…

Pot is legal in those states now.

Because it’s stupid to go after people who do stuff with legal means when too many people do it.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The encryption itself is the "crime", see?

More likely there will be a requirement for encryption to require some sort of license based on need. Sending infringing content is unlikely to be deemed a need.

Abg guvf vqvbpl ntnva. Gur vqrn gung lbh pna ona rapelcgvba be erdhver n “yvprafr” vf fvyyl sbe n jubyr ubfg bs ernfbaf… vapyhqvat guvf irel pbzzrag. Vg’f n fvta bs fbzrbar jub qbrfa’g haqrefgnaq jung “rapelcgvba” zrnaf.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The encryption itself is the "crime", see?

Not this idiocy again. The idea that you can ban encryption or require a “license” is silly for a whole host of reasons… including this very comment. It’s a sign of someone who doesn’t understand what “encryption” means.

Wow, I haven’t used ROT13 in soooo long… thanks for making me feel old.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The encryption itself is the "crime", see?

Unless they make encryption illegal or can break it, a system like this actually DOES work (assuming, of course, you don’t add the anti-piracy site as a trusted friend or make some other really stupid move.)

But you have a point, and people are out of line for flagging the post. If encryption becomes illegal, you really only have the options of attempting in-plain-sight encryption (which has limits) or not using the Internet.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

If you don’t know who you are with, don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of a cop. That’s the takeaway; no more no less. But most people already know that. So if some dumbshit gets his ass in a sling for being too wide-eyed, it’s not the end of the world.

That said, I’d be interested in learning more about how the contractor got said dumbshit to friend them. I’d wager there were some shady bits involved in that.

M@ says:

Its an evolution and Thanks to this guy for his contribution

We all know what the “Friends network” was doingn wrong. Thank you to this unfortunate person for helping all of us see the other players hand. Time to morf into something new if you want to steal content. If you are an innocent person on this legal network then let the RIAA in and root out the people who like myself, STEAL other peoples work.

Peace Out…

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