In Germany, Free WiFi Operator No Longer Accountable for Piracy

In Germany, a court has upheld a 2017 legislation that grants WiFi operators immunity against acts carried out by their users. Prior to the ruling, those operators could have been held responsible due to a legal concept known as ‘interferer liability’, or Störerhaftung.

While the rule was favored by copyright holders, it inevitably curbed the availability of free WiFi across the country.

The History

It all started in 2013 when an IT worker challenged a fine issued against him after another person downloaded a game – Dead Island – using one of the Tor servers that the former had set up. At the time, game owner Deep Silver demanded that the IT worker pay 1,000 euros or else face a lawsuit.

The German government first showed signs that it was aware of the problem back in 2016 when it promised to take appropriate measures to ensure that places with public WiFi networks, cafes, hotels, and such, would be exempt from the costs of court proceedings in the event of an infringement complaint.

To put things into perspective, Germany has around half the number of cafes with free wifi hotspots per capita than other European countries such as the UK, Austria, and Sweden.

Appropriate regulations were put in place in 2017 under the German Telemedia act, but operators were still hesitant for fear that EU laws might override the new regulation. But all seems well now as Germany’s Federal Court of Justice deemed the legislation to be compatible with EU regulations.

The decision by Federal Court of Justice also means that the case is likely to go to the European Court of Justice in Brussels for a final decision.

This shouldn’t be a problem though, as the European Court of Justice had in 2016 ruled that WiFi providers cannot be held liable for third-party infringements but that local courts or authorities can order WiFi providers to take measures to stop repeat incidents of infringement.

In a move that should placate copyrights holders, the Federal Court also stated that WiFi providers can be asked block file-sharing services and websites that abuse copyright laws.