German Court Decisions Make Everyday Use Of The Internet Increasingly Risky There
from the but-safer-for-dinosaurs dept
Perhaps there's something about the German legal system that encourages judges to push their interpretation of the law to the limit, without any concern for whether the results of that logic are absurd. At least that is the impression you might get from two recent cases whose judgments both make use of the internet by ordinary citizens increasing fraught with legal risks.
The first involved a retired woman who was accused of downloading a violent film about hooligans. That in itself seems slightly unlikely, but nothing compared with the fact that at the time of the alleged download, the woman in question had neither computer nor wireless router, and lived alone.
Given that, you might think this was a cut-and-dried case of a mistake being made by the tracking company or ISP, since it was not physically possible for the IP address that had been assigned to her in a previous period (when she did have a computer and was online) to be used by her.
But the German judge in Munich was having none of it. As TorrentFreak reports:
The bottom line in Germany is that account holders are responsible for everything that happens on their account and if they canít prove their innocence, they are found guilty. The woman must now pay just over 650 euros in damages to the copyright holder.
That seems an extraordinary approach, since it requires the accused to prove that something didn't happen. And if the absence of computer and wireless router isn't enough to do that, what is?
The other court case extends this extremist interpretation of copyright law to include streaming. A judge in Leipzig has ruled that even the temporary downloading involved in streaming counts as making a copy, because data packets are downloaded successively. If the material on the server is an unauthorized copy, then so is the streamed version, and the person viewing it is breaking the law (German original).
The trouble with this interpretation is that often it is not clear whether material held on a server is infringing on someone else's copyright Ė even for lawyers, never mind for members of the public.
So what will be the inevitable effect of this uncompromising viewpoint, if it is confirmed and enforced across Germany? Practically every site holding user-generated content will be forced to remove it or shut down completely there, since few general users will take the risk of downloading or streaming unknown materials that may be unauthorized, and that would immediately turn them into criminals. And that includes major sites like YouTube or top German startup Soundcloud, and possibly even Facebook, which might need to block all videos.
These extremist interpretations of copyright law threaten to have a chilling effect not just on online innovation in Germany -- who would risk setting up an internet company that involved any kind of user-generated content there? -- but beyond, into everyday life. It would make the use of the internet for anything other than as a medium for watching "approved" channels of "approved" content too much of a risk for much of the general population. Which, of course, is exactly what the copyright industries are striving for: a tamed, neutered Net.