Leading Decision on Parents’ Liability for Copyright Violation by File Sharing Children

The German Federal Court of Justice yesterday November 15, 2012 decided on how far parents can be held liable for their children’s illegal use of file sharing via peer-to-peer services and copyright violations resulting from that use.

Not rarely, people who happen to be subscribers to an Internet connection and parents of a teenager at the same time are, out of the blue, confronted with a warning letter by a lawyer claiming violation of his/her client’s copyrights because of illegal file-sharing. Mostly the cases are about sharing music or movies; almost every time the letter demands compensation for the lawyer’s fees and the damages.

The case the Federal Court in yesterday’s decision (I ZR 74/12 – Morpheus) had to decide about was exemplary for those cases. In 2007 the Defendants’ 13 year-old son used their connection to offer almost 1,200 music files for free download via the P2P applications Morpheus and Bearshare. The parents received a warning letter demanding them to sign a cease and desist declaration and to pay the lawyer’s costs and the damages. They did sign the declaration but refused to pay any compensation. The Regional Court ordered them to pay approximately 5,000 €. The appeal was unsuccessful. The parents were held to be liable for breach of their parental supervisory duties.

The Federal Court contested the decisions and dismissed the claim and held that parents generally fulfilled their supervisory duties over a normally developed 13 year-old kid that follows their primary commandments and prohibitions by clarifying to them the prohibition to take part in illegal online file-sharing. An obligation to monitor the child’s Internet use, to check their kid’s computer or to (partially) block their child’s access to the Internet did generally not exist.

Therefore parents who have properly instructed their kids on Internet use and the illegality of file sharing via P2P applications and who do not have any specific indications to doubt in their kids’ correct internet use do fulfill their parental supervisory duties and cannot be held liable for their kids’ file sharing activities. A reason to doubt in your kid’s legal Internet us is – of course – the first warning letter.

So, kids, if your parents have explained to you the legal relevance of your behavior and if you can’t proof you aren’t smart enough to understand it yourselves… the ones who will be liable are you. Let’s see if the music industry – already struggling with its reputation among the internet community – will really take that presumably rather unpopular step.

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