German Court Rules Parents Must Out Their Family Members For Copyright Trolls Or Pay Fines Themselves

from the family-first dept

Copyright trolls are a plague spreading across the world, one which has received far too little social medicine for the taste of many. This virulent form of rent-seeking tends to put out some of the more despicable strategies, from flatout falsely accusing people of piracy, lying to international students about the punishment for copyright infringement, and threatening those that expose their actions.

But a case that was winding its way through German courts sees copyright trolls there now going even further, winning the argument over whether parents should have to serve their own children up to the courts for copyright trolls.

In 2011, a family received a letter from Universal Music, demanding cash alongside claims that Rihanna’s album ‘Loud’ had been illegally shared via their Internet connection. The parents, to whom the letter was addressed, indicated that they had no interest whatsoever in the R&B star. However, one of their three children apparently did, and the parents knew which one had committed the infringement. Perhaps understandably, however, the parents didn’t want to throw their child to the lions. It’s a position that’s supported by a local law which protects family members from having to testify against each other.

The case ended up at the Munich Court of First Instance and the parents were held liable for copyright infringement and ordered to pay almost 3,900 euros. From there the case progressed to the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof – BGH), which handed down its ruling Thursday. In a big win for Universal, the BGH upheld the decision of the lower court, holding the parents liable for copyright infringement.

In other words, in the name of copyright trolls that have naught but an IP address to go on, parents in Germany may now face a flavor of Sophie's Choice: give up your children to the copyright troll or pay all fines themselves. Given that we're talking about children here, that likely amounts to the same result, as parents will be the one footing the bill. Still, there is something sadistic about trying to cooerce parents into naming their own children before the court. Keep in mind that this is mere copyright infringement we're talking about, not the typical crimes for which parents have long been expected to be responsible for when their children violate the law. And keep in mind as well how often these copyright trolls are wrong, have faulty or incomplete evidence, and so on.

Levying responsibility for the failure to out one's own family member is almost comically pernicious. That the court saw fit to route around local laws protecting families from this sort of thing in the name of copyright trolls seems doubly so.


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Apr 2017 @ 3:22pm

    It's Germany...

    A nation that brought the world to war.

    If their citizens don't like it, they can do something about their government. Until then... I will just keep eating my popcorn!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mononymous Tim (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 3:50pm

    You think Rihanna will see a penny of that? I doubt it, not that she would have gotten much more from an actual sale of the album anyway. Makes me wanna run out and buy a Universal Music album ..NOT!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Digitari, 5 Apr 2017 @ 4:18pm

    This is the one of the many reasons ...

    Many people stopped having children..... Pets don't download (they just make a stink)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Jimbo52 (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 4:23pm

    Must Out Their Family Members...

    Read STASI!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 4:41pm

    "The Court did throw potential future defendants a lifeline, however. If the Internet account holder does not know the name of the infringer, he or she is not obliged to monitor the Internet usage of other family members or to examine computers for the existence of file-sharing software."

    How a letter with nothing more than an IP address as evidence get taken seriously?

    But then this is Germany where they demanded a woman without a computer pay fines for a movie DLed on her connection because the idea that she would download a title that was graphic (iirc pro nazi type movie) shouldn't enter into it. Your connection your responsibility, even if you lacked the machine to have done it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 4:42pm

    Dear Germany, Welcome the Copyright Nazis.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Digitari, 5 Apr 2017 @ 5:47pm

    Re:

    the copyreich?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    May The Farce Be With You, 5 Apr 2017 @ 5:53pm

    Information Kops

    Knowledge... forbidden use of language... any information not authorized for public, er, consumer consumption... in a world where hypocritical politicos exempt themselves from so-called laws created in secret to be force on their fellow monkey-men (exempting themselves, however, as to big/important/influential to fail)... Sheesh.

    To run for office, of any kind, there should be written tests to determine levels of intelligence and psychological evaluations to establish eligibility.

    Now, let us speak of ballots and ways of inhibiting accuracy and other methods of suppression.

    Now, let us speak of: So-called democracy is effective with only an educated, sane, INFORMED slaves... er, citizens.

    Now, let us speak of (your turn)...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Bergman (profile), 5 Apr 2017 @ 6:14pm

    Re: This is the one of the many reasons ...

    Actually, cats have been known to place online orders while sleeping on keyboards.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Kweeb, 5 Apr 2017 @ 7:16pm

    Parental Liability

    I'm sorry, but wasn't it always the case that the parent could be held liable for the offenses (civil or criminal) of their minor child? What is new or horrible here? Even the fine is comparatively low.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Châu, 5 Apr 2017 @ 7:16pm

    Not pay any money

    Not give them money. Never feed that beast. Other idea: contact artist Rihanna direct and tell about this. If pay any person send money direct to Rihanna and subtract Deutschland income tax.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 12:17am

    I could agree with the judge if...

    I could agree with the judge if
    - there is a standard of proof, not just an ip-address;
    - the fine is set to what a fine should be: hurt a little to deflect future action, not bankrupt a family with 3900 euros.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 12:38am

    Where are your papers? While the Swiss take an active approach to protecting our privacy, the German government does not. Once again, big money got no soul, and obviously has rights the common man does not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 1:10am

    Re: Parental Liability

    Well, Timothy messed his article up. Indeed parents are liable for the offenses of their minor children.

    The unique part about this decision was that the case was about adult children. In Germany, you cannot be forced to testify against close relatives.

    And the court basically said "if you don't want to identify the adult infringer in your household because it is a close relative, you'll just be held liable for the infringement yourself".

    And that's a very peculiar end run against not having to testify against relatives in court.

    In the case of close relatives the court cannot force the witness to testify, so instead it just punished the witness in effigy. Mind you, not as a parent (since we are talking not about a minor) but as a witness with the right not to cooperate in this case of a common household.

    That's the iffy bit, and Timothy messed it up completely by overlooking the aspect that the suspects were all adults.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 1:43am

    Re: Parental Liability

    Its not in this article (or I overlooked it), but their three kids are all adults.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 2:25am

    I wonder what the EUJC would think of this...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    David, 6 Apr 2017 @ 2:54am

    Re: Re: Parental Liability

    Basically, the court argued that "you cannot be forced to testify against close relatives" means "you cannot be forced to investigate against close relatives" but if you already know who is guilty, you have to give their identity up or you are yourself considered guilty of the offense.

    I don't think that this would pass Supreme Court muster but it's not like I have a hit quota of 100% with such predictions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Kweeb, 6 Apr 2017 @ 3:40am

    Re: Re: Parental Liability

    Aha. That is fucked up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Apr 2017 @ 5:30am

    Re: Not pay any money

    That would be an interesting way of dealing with copyright trolling. Pay only to the artist and ask said artist if he;she is happy that a fan had been screwed and will not be, you know, a fan anymore. I can't imagine many artists that would keep letting third party copyright collectors manage their portfolio.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    rebrad (profile), 6 Apr 2017 @ 6:19am

    The 4th Reich Lives

    So, the German 4th Reich demands their subjects allegiance überall. We've been here too before. No wonder the freedom loving people of the UK want to get out of the fascist EU sooner than later.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Lady Gwyneth (profile), 6 Apr 2017 @ 8:38am

    Deutschland, wofur? Weren't you all about liberties and rights my old friend? Auferstandend aus Ruinen, hast thou forgotten those ruins?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    John Cressman, 6 Apr 2017 @ 8:51am

    It's Germany...

    It's Germany, the country that gave us human ovens, gas chambers, secret police and turning in your neighbors... should we expect anything else except a fascist ruling from them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Padremellyrn, 6 Apr 2017 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re:

    Good one, I think we need to "Patton-t" that one. LOL

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 10:38am

    Hand them over

    Can't you just hand your kids over to the lions, and let them get a judgement against someone who has no income? Maybe then the parents wouldn't have to pay.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    David, 6 Apr 2017 @ 10:43am

    Re:

    "Auferstanden aus Ruinen" was the national anthem of the GDR.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 1:34pm

    Re: It's Germany...

    You don't vote for judges and there is no party with a chance to get the majority vote that would change copyright in a pro consumer way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 1:40pm

    Re:

    "While the Swiss take an active approach to protecting our privacy"

    Didn't the Swiss accept a law to monitor all internet/phone traffic just last year?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 1:41pm

    Re: The 4th Reich Lives

    Snooper Charter?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Apr 2017 @ 1:47pm

    Re: It's Germany...

    Amercia, the country that committed a near genocide on its native population by killing millions, abducted people to work as their slaves, imprisoned innocent people, and killed thousands of children with atomic bombs.

    Do you really want to take a look at history? 2 of those things above happened during the Nazi time. Germany has learnt from history, America still bombs innocent people...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Alwaid, 6 Apr 2017 @ 5:46pm

    "a plague spreading across the world"

    Abolish copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Paul Baynes, 6 Apr 2017 @ 11:17pm

    If one has the knowledge of the wrong and the wrong doer, the latter must always be turned up to the law. Otherwise, one becomes an abettor of the crime and criminal. Also, the protected wrong doer, is encouraged then to commit further and greater wrongs. In the case of minors, the parents have a vicarious liability for the wrongs they commit. In the case of adult children and relatives, such protection should not be provided.The German law needs to be changed to address this. The right to privacy will not get affected at all, rather these 'adults' will be forced to become more responsible in society.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 7 Apr 2017 @ 7:30am

    Re: Re: It's Germany...

    You can campaign for a change in the law — or join the Pirate Party.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Farley Finster, 7 Apr 2017 @ 9:55am

    More lies about the ruling, this time with Techdirt's spin

    A week on and this stream utter and absolute bullshit continues to flow unabated¹.

    tl;dr: The "children" are all legal adults!

    Mistake 1: Acceptance of guilt

    Mistake 2: Withholding the name of the guilty adult, having already admitted participatory guilt

    An essplanation:

    First, the family copped to having committed "theft" of some sort. The claim was based on their IP address. They could and should've fought that but didn't. Easy to say 'cuz I wuzn't there? Perhaps, but I'm personally familiar with what's involved having received my very own love letter from Waldorf-Frommer, the "troll" firm noted for demands made on anyone using torrents. I fought back and they fucked off. I didn't risk fighting them back to try and recover my legal costs.

    Second, and more importantly here, the "children" of this family are all legally adults. Parents are automatically responsible for most actions of their minor children but not so with adults. However, the parents took it upon themselves -- after admitting guilt -- to refuse to identify which legal adult (for whom they were not legally responsible) committed the crime². They know who did it and wouldn't tell. That's their prerogative, morally and under the law. And therefore they're paying the fine.

    I don't see the point to it since this is a matter of civil, not criminal law. At least for now anyway, although GEMA and the RIAA/MPAA equivalents would love to change that.

    The headline is bullshit. The write-up is bullshit. But I'm sure Geigner scored a few hundred clicks from redditurds for it. Sadly, in order to grab eyeballs most German media are also, if not outright lying or spinning it the same way, at the very least failing to mention that the "kids" are adults and the parents are intentionally withholding the name of the lawbreaker.


    ¹ Oh, it's Geigner, the guy who vilifies foreign courts for not being American except when glorifying their sensibilities as a model American courts desperately need to learn from. No wonder.

    ² It is a crime in this context and case because they accepted it as such and admitted their participation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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