Wi-Fi Operators Not Liable for Pirating Users, German Court Rules

Wi-Fi Operators Not Liable for Pirating Users, German Court Rules

BERLIN — Germany's highest court last week upheld legislation that offers Wi-Fi operators immunity from acts carried out by third-party users.

The decision by the Federal Court of Justice now makes it easier for individuals and businesses to offer Wi-Fi without fearing civil prosecution for acts of copyright infringement committed by others.

Prior to the ruling, because of the legal concept known as Störerhaftung, or interferer’s liability, a third party who played no deliberate part in someone else’s actions could be held responsible for them.

As a result, Wi-Fi hot spots have been too few and far between in Germany, the E.U.’s largest country in terms of gross national product. Visitors from abroad have found themselves shut out at public venues and unable to access the web like they could in other countries.

With the Federal Court of Justice’s ruling, Wi-Fi providers can offer hot spots with impunity and also have the ability to shut down third-party access to file-sharing services and block certain websites without liability.

The court said that the decision “does not preclude the copyright holder from seeking before a national authority or court to have such a service provider ordered to end, or prevent, any infringement of copyright committed by its customers,”  

The case over amendments to the 2017 German Telemedia law will next travel to the European Court of Justice in Brussels for a final decision.