Are parents responsible for kids' file-sharing? Germany decides no

Germany’s highest court today ruled that parents are not responsible if their children illegally download music - provided that they did everything reasonable to make sure their kids knew what they were doing wrong.
Written by Moritz Jaeger, Contributor

The German Federal Supreme Court (BGH) ruled on Thursday that parents cannot be held responsible for the illegal downloads of their children, provided they have previously explained to their kids that the practice is illegal.

The highest German court issued the verdict after the parents of a thirteen-year-old boy were sued for €3,000 in damages for breach of copyright by the music company EMI, the court said.

"Parents do not need to constantly watch what their kids are doing when they use the internet," as long as they have sufficiently explained the issue surrounding antipiracy issues to them, the court said.

After he had been reported by the music company EMI, police raided the family's home and seized the computers, German newspaper Die Zeit reports

EMI accused the boy of having used the peer-to-peer client Morpheus to upload 1,147 audio files over a period of seven months, and went on to sue the family in a Cologne court. The court convicted the family of downloading 15 songs, with EMI awarded damages of €200 per song.

The father subsequently appealed to a higher court. He had done everything in his power to secure the access to the computer, he claimed. Joachim Bornkamm, the presiding judge at the BGH, agreed, overturning the previous verdict.

The verdict is a significant one in German law. Bernhard Knies, a lawyer from Munich, told Die Zeit: "This is the judicial precedent we have been waiting for years."

This verdict will bring clarity to hundreds of his clients, and answer the questions over whether parents are liable for the online behaviour of their children.

According to the newspaper, the verdict might also see the reopening of a number of older cases on the same issue, where the defendant chose to settle. 

So far, EMI Music has not issued a statement. 

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