Man Can’t Pass Buck for Illegal Uploads, EU High Court Says

(CN) – A German man who blamed a family member for illegally uploading an audiobook to a file-sharing service cannot duck civil liability since the internet connection used is in his name, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday.

The German publisher Bastei Lubbe sued Michael Strotzer in a Munich court after discovering Strotzer’s internet connection was used to post an audiobook to a file-sharing service. Bastei Lubbe owns the copyright to the audiobook and sought damages for infringement of said copyright.

But Strotzer denied uploading the file, claiming his parents also live in the house and have access to the internet connection used. He did not, however, offer any evidence as to how or when his parents ever used the internet connection.

The Munich court noted German case law allows Strotzer’s defense, under the fundamental right to protection of family life, to duck liability simply because the internet connection is in his name. However, the court asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on whether German law meshes with EU laws on copyright and intellectual property rights.

On Thursday, the Luxembourg-based EU high court found it doesn’t mesh at all.

EU law, the high court said, precludes “national legislation, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, under which the owner of an internet connection used for copyright infringements through file-sharing cannot be held liable to pay damages if he can name at least one family member who might have had access to that connection, without providing further details as to when and how the internet was used by that family member.”

If courts cannot order Strotzer or people in similar situations to provide evidence of someone else using his internet connection to break the law, the fundamental rights to an effective remedy and to intellectual property of the copyright holder are seriously infringed, the high court said.

It is up the Munich court to determine what authority it has to order Strotzer to produce the evidence needed to litigate Bastei Lubbe’s case. If none, under EU law Strotzer may be liable for copyright infringement as the account holder of the internet connection used, the court added.

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