German Court: AOL Responsible for Pirated Music

LONDON (04/13/2000) - A Munich judge has ruled that Internet access providers in Germany are responsible for any illegally copied music on their systems.

The ruling springs from a case in which German music company HitBit Software GmbH sued AOL Europe GmbH in 1997 because users of the service had put copyrighted MIDI files online.

AOL officials, who said they heard about the ruling today, said they have obeyed the law to the fullest extent. "The law says that an ISP (Internet service provider) can only be held liable for illegal material on his server if he doesn't block access to it as soon as he finds out about it," Frank Sarfeld, director of corporate communications for AOL Germany and AOL Europe, said.

"When the company told us it was there, we removed it or blocked access to it," he added.

Although Sarfeld acknowledged that the damages, which have yet to be decided on by the judge, won't add up to much, the money in this case is not the issue at hand.

"Nobody has ever sued the mail service in England or Germany; next time a company might sue them for transporting stolen materials. We're just the messenger, this affects all German ISPs," Sarfeld said.

AOL's lawyers are currently looking into an appeal, Sarfeld said. "I simply hope this verdict will be overturned in the district court."

AOL Europe is owned by Time Warner AOL Inc. and Bertelsmann AG, both of whom have significant holdings in the music industry.

AOL Europe, in Hamburg, Germany, can be reached at +49-403-61-590, or at http://www.aol.co.uk/. HitBox, in Karlsruhe, Germany, can be reached at http://www.hitbox.com/.

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