Despite not owning a computer or even a router, a retired woman has been ordered by a court to pay compensation to a movie company. The woman had been pursued by a rightsholder who claimed she had illegally shared a violent movie about hooligans on the Internet, but the fact that she didn’t even have an email address proved of little interest to the court. Guilty until proven innocent is the formula in Germany.
The just-concluded case in Germany demonstrates perfectly that in some jurisdictions the standard way to deal with a file-sharing claim is guilty until proven innocent.
At 09:10 during a cold January morning in 2010, the defendant in the case says she was tucked up in bed. A movie copyright holder, however, insists the retired single woman was illegally sharing files on the Internet.
The settlement letter sent to the woman by the copyright holder stated clearly that on January 4th she’d been using the eDonkey network to share a violent film about hooligans. For this offense she must pay compensation of around 650 euros or face court, they said.
Like so many claims of this nature, the accusation was problematic. Although she previously subscribed to a 2-year Internet and telephone package, six months earlier the woman had sold her computer and didn’t even maintain an email address. After refuting the allegations of the rightsholder, the case went to court.
The Munich District Court handled the case, and heard evidence that not only is the woman computerless, she lives alone and doesn’t possess a wireless router either. How the alleged offense could have been carried out even by a third party remains a mystery. Nevertheless, none of the above protestations were of interest to the court. Despite the fact that the copyright holder and/or their tracking company could have made errors, or that the woman’s ISP could have identified her account incorrectly, none of these avenues were examined.
“Normally the copyright holder has to prove who did the copyright infringement. As this is hard for him – because he has no chance to look into thousand houses – the courts in Germany alleviate this burden of proof,” explains Christian Solmecke, a lawyer with Wilde Beuger Solmecke, the law firm that defended the woman. Solmecke told TorrentFreak that initially all a copyright holder has to do is show that a protected work has been traded via a specific IP-address, then the accused has to prove their innocence.
“In the next step the defendant has to prove, that neither he nor anyone else who had access to his internet account did the copyright infringement. In my opinion our client has proved that fact. If you have no computer and no W-LAN, there has to be a failure in the backtracking of the IP-address,” he added. The bottom line in Germany is that account holders are responsible for everything that happens on their account and if they can’t prove their innocence, they are found guilty. The woman must now pay just over 650 euros in damages to the copyright holder.
There can be little doubt that German law is tipped heavily in the favor of rightsholders. Little surprise then that Germany is without doubt the worst place in the world for pay-up-or-else-schemes. So how often are people wrongly accused?
“Every second person tells me, that he or she appears to be wrongfully accused,” says Solmecke. “Some of them lie even to their lawyer but most of them tell the truth. From my point of view, there has to be a big mistake in some of the different backtracking-systems.”
So for now the formula for rightsholders seems incredibly simple.
IP address. Accusation. Profit.