in September 2013, H33T.com, one of the Internet’s most-visited torrent sites at the time, disappeared from the web .
Although the downtime was initially shrouded in mystery, it later became clear that the site had been targeted in a copyright infringement action.
In order to stop the distribution of a copy of Robin Thicke’s album Blurred Lines, Universal Music had obtained an injunction against Key-Systems, a German-based registrar where the H33t.com domain name was registered.
Key-Systems wasn’t happy with the ruling and the precedent it set but had no other option than to comply. However, the company informed us at the time that it would appeal the verdict, hoping to have it lifted.
This was the start of a drawn-out legal battle from which the latest ruling was just released.
The Higher Regional Court of Saarbrücken concluded Key-Systems can be held secondarily liable for the infringing actions of a customer if it fails to take action if rightsholders point out “obvious” copyright infringing activity online.
This means that, if a site owner is unresponsive to takedown requests, Key-Systems and other registrars can be required to take a domain name offline, even when the infringing activity is limited to a single page.
The local music group BVMI is happy with the outcome of the case. They believe it will help copyright holders to take action against infringing activity.
“This is a further important clarification in the legal space of the internet, helping it to become clearer and fairer for creatives and their partners,” says René Houareau, BVMI’s Managing Director Legal & Political Affairs.
“The [court] affirms, with clearly outlined criteria, the responsibility of so-called registrars and thus gives affected rightsholders an important legal tool to defend themselves against the unlawful use of their content on the internet.”
For H33T the case is no longer relevant. The site did make a comeback after the initial problems, first at H33T.eu and later at H33t.to. However, two years later it disappeared for good.
That said, the German ruling can affect other sites and registrars as well. In fact, in a similar legal battle, domain registrar 1 API lost a case earlier this year, which required it to disconnect several Pirate Bay-related domains.
The domains in question include thepiratebay.gd, thepiratebay.la, thepiratebay.mn, and thepiratebay.vg. These were already disabled years ago, and are no longer in use, but it confirms that registrars can be required to take action against pirate sites.
Lawyer Mirko Brüß notes that, in this case, the court clarified that registrars not only have to take a domain offline, they should also prevent it from being transferred to another company.
Pirate Bay’s former registrar 1 API was not allowed to appeal the case any further, but Key-Systems still has the option to take the case to the German Federal Court. This means that the H33T case may not be over yet.
TorrentFreak reached out to Key-Systems for a comment and to ask if it plans to fight the issue at the highest court, but we have yet to hear back.