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German court says Usenet provider liable for its users’ copyright infringement 

By | Published on Friday 6 July 2018


The European Parliament yesterday voted down proposals to increase the liabilities of platforms that facilitate the distribution of music without licence. But earlier this week German collecting society GEMA was welcoming a ruling in the Hamburg courts regarding the liabilities of one such platform, UseNeXT.

UseNeXT provides access to the plethora of Usenet newsgroups. The sharing of unlicensed music and movie files via Usenet – a platform for sharing information online that long pre-dates the web – has bothered copyright owners for a long time, even though such sharing never quite got to the top of the piracy gripe list. GEMA has been trying to argue that UseNeXT and its owner Aviteo should be liable for the copyright infringement of its users for years.

Beyond the pesky safe harbours that the further delayed European Copyright Directive may or may not reform, extra questions are raised where platforms help users access unlicensed content but don’t actually host said content on their servers. And even more so when the sharing of links to such infringing content sits alongside a whole host of other legitimate chatting and linking.

However, in a recent albeit not-yet-binding ruling, the Regional Court Of Hamburg ruled that under German law platforms like UseNeXT can be liable for their users copyright infringement if their business model somehow promotes the uploading and distribution of unlicensed copyright material. And with that in mind, it deemed that Aviteo is liable for copyright infringement in this specific case, seemingly because of tools it provides that specifically seek out music and movie content.

GEMA’s Dr Tobias Holzmüller said earlier this week that the ruling in this case was a “groundbreaking success” for the society’s songwriter and music publisher members. He went on: “Online services such as UseNeXT are responsible and can not hide behind legal privileges. The judges have created an important precedent for claims for damages in the field of internet piracy”.

What damages Aviteo should pay GEMA is still to be ascertained, and the tech company could as yet appeal the ruling.