German Court Rules Usenet Provider Liable for User Activity

A court in Germany has ruled that Usenet providers are liable for the activity of users. The case was brought forth by GEMA.

Safe harbour laws have long protected ISPs and service providers existence. The idea of safe harbour laws is that if you are simply providing a service as a dumb pipe, you aren’t held liable for infringing activity of your users. If copyrighted material is found on your network or server, and there is a complaint of infringement, then you need to take action to remove that content. It’s a fair process that allows rights holders to protect their work while at the same time permits web services to operate.

That principle is being thrown into question in Germany now thanks to a ruling against UseNeXT. According to German reports, GEMA has won its case against the Usenet provider. As a result, UseNeXT is being ordered to pay damages for copyright infringing activities of its users even though they only provide access to Usenet.

GEMA, a German royalty collection organization that represents major corporate interests, hailed the ruling as a major victory. They say that Internet services and providers cannot hide behind the law for copyright infringing activity. As a result, they view this as a victory against alleged Internet piracy.

Of course, the implications of such a ruling could be incredibly damaging for Internet innovation. If someone is wanting to create the next big Internet platform, those innovators would likely now shy away from a country like Germany. Why would any innovative service that revolves around users set up shop in Germany when they could be held liable for the users activity regardless of enforcement measures being put in place.

If anything, business does not like uncertainty. If there is legal uncertainty in Germany, that creates a motivation to simply pack up and move that investment money elsewhere.

One thing is for sure, this is definitely a blow to German Internet innovation.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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