Parents not liable for their son's illegal music sharing, German court rules

The parents were not obliged to monitor their child's Internet usage, the court ruled

A German couple are not liable for the filesharing activities of their 13-year old son because they told him unauthorized downloading and sharing of copyrighted material was illegal, and they were not aware the boy violated this prohibition, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled on Thursday.

The parents met their parental obligations supervising a normally developed 13-year-old child by teaching him that filesharing is unlawful, the Federal Court of Justice ruled. The parents were not obliged to check up on the boy, or monitor his Internet behavior.

"Parents are in principal not obliged to monitor the child's Internet usage, to check the child's computer or to (partially) obstruct the child's access to the Internet," the court found. Parents are only committed to such measures when they have reasonable grounds to suspect their child is engaging in infringing activity when using the Internet, it added.

The parents were sued by record producers that hold the exclusive copyright to songs shared by the boy. In 2007, one of the producers discovered that 1,147 songs were offered for download at an IP-address that could be traced back to the parents of the boy, the court said.

When their home was searched, the son's PC was seized and on the computer the filesharing programs "Morpheus" and "Bearshare" were found. After that, the plaintiffs asked the parents of the boy to sign a cease and desist request to get them to agree to stop the filesharing now and in the future. The parents signed the request, but they refused to pay damages or legal costs.

While the boy shared over a thousand songs, the lawsuit was over 15 recordings for which the producers demanded ¬200 (US$255) per title or ¬3,000 in total, plus ¬2,380 in legal costs.

The ruling of the Federal Court of Justice reversed a ruling of the higher regional court of Cologne, which found the parents were liable for the illegal filesharing because they failed to fulfill their parental supervision. That court said the parents could have installed a firewall on their son's computer as well as a security program that would have made it possible to only allow the child to install software with the consent of his parents.

Besides that, the parents could have checked their son's PC once a month, and then the parents would have spotted the Bearshare icon on the computers' desktop, according to the Cologne court. "The Federal Court overturned the decision of the Appeal Court and dismissed it," the court said.

The Federal Court did not respond to a request for comment.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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