Accused Pirate Can’t Escape Liability By Pointing at a Family Member Without Detail

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The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that the right to a private family life doesn't shield accused file-sharers form potential liability. This means that an accused pirate can't hide behind other family members who may have committed the infringements, without providing more detail. Doing so would harm the fundamental rights of copyright holders.

More than eight years ago, German citizen Michael Strotzer was the subscriber of an Internet connection from where an audiobook was made available on a peer-to-peer network.

The copyright holder, Germany company Bastei Lübbe AG, was not pleased and demanded that he stop the infringing activity.

This later escalated to a full-blown lawsuit in which the publisher demanded damages. Strotzer, however, denied that he had personally shared the work. While his network was secure, he noted that his parents, who lived at the same address, had access to his network.

The defendant, however, did not provide any further details as to where and when his parents used his connection.

The court initially dismissed the action against Strotzer on the grounds that the copyright infringement could not be directly attributed to him, since his parents could also have shared the audiobook.

In response, Bastei Lübbe filed an appeal with the Regional Court of First Instance in Munich. Here it eventually hit a roadblock.

Strotzer denied that he shared the pirated content. At the same time, German law protects the fundamental right to protection of family life, which means that he didn’t have to provide detailed information on other family members.

Faced with this dilemma, the Munich court referred the case to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for guidance, which came in today.

Siding in large part with an earlier opinion from EU Advocate General Szpunar, the CJEU ruled that the right to protection of family life doesn’t shield Internet subscribers from liability.

“The Court considers that a fair balance must be struck between the various fundamental rights, namely the right to an effective remedy and the right to intellectual property, on the one hand, and the right to respect for private and family life, on the other.

“There is no such fair balance where almost absolute protection is guaranteed for the family members of the owner of an internet connection, through which copyright infringements were committed by means of file-sharing,” the CJEU adds.

The CJEU notes that if a defendant can’t be required to provide evidence on which member of the household carried out the infringement, the fundamental rights of copyright holders are at stake.

That said, it remains up to national courts to determine whether there are other options through which the true pirate can be identified.

The case now goes back to the Munich court. Based on the CJEU’s decision and the comments that were made previously, there is a high possibility that Strotzer will be held liable. Unless there is other evidence pointing to the real infringer, of course.


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