Domain Registrar Liable for Torrent Site Infringement, Court Rules

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A court in Germany has ruled that a domain registrar can be held liable for the copyright-infringing activities of a torrent site using its services. Registrar Key-Systems informs TorrentFreak that if allowed to stand, the ruling will have dire consequences for the kind of services domain registrars are able to provide in future.

H33T, previously one of the Internet’s largest torrent trackers, disappeared offline in September 2013. Although the downtime was initially shrouded in mystery, it later became clear it had been targeting 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 with whom H33T had registered its domain name. In order to comply with the court order, Key-Systems deleted H33T.com’s DNS entries which took the site down.

H33T eventually reappeared under a new domain, although as an indexer minus its long-standing tracker. But now, some months later, there is a new and worrying twist in the tale, one that could have serious implications for domain registrars.

A judgment just published by the Regional Court of Saarbrücken states that a domain registrar, in this case Key-Systems, can be held liable for the infringing actions of a site (in this case H33T) if it is “obvious” that it is committing offenses under copyright law.

Following complaints from Universal and its legal team, Key-Systems reportedly informed H33T about the alleged infringement of “Blurred Lines” but no action was taken to remove the content in question. This, alongside claims that H33T had disguised the owner of its domain by using a shell company in the Seychelles, meant that the registrar had no choice but to disable the domain or become liable itself.

In earlier cases the Federal Court found that DENIC, Germany’s central registry for domain names, was generally not liable for violations carried out by third parties, but in this case the Regional Court said that infringement was obviously being carried out by H33T so Key-Systems needed to act.

“With the current judgment, the Regional Court of Saarbrücken has for the first time clarified the responsibility of a registrar in respect of copyright infringements carried out via a domain registered by him,” says Dr. Florian Drücke of the Federal Music Industry Association (BVMI).

“For rights holders this offers a new protection option to take action against portals with illegal offers on the net, that hide their identities using front companies registered abroad,” he adds.

“If the registrar is informed about a clear violation of the law, it must examine the specific offer immediately and lock the domain. This is another important decision, which shows that the question of the responsibilities of all participants on the Internet must always be re-examined.”

With the Regional Court making it clear that should Key-Systems reactivate H33T’s domain they face a 250,000 euro fine, the stakes are high – and not only for this particular registrar either. With that in mind, Key-Systems lawyer Volker Greimann informs TorrentFreak that as far as they are concerned the battle is far from over.

“Let’s just say that this was not the final word in the matter. We are currently reviewing the judgment and our options for having this overturned in the next instance,” Greimann told TF.

“This judgment makes no legal sense and is full of errors. If this judgment stands, it will have dire consequences for the kind of services German registrars can provide.”

Rasch Legal, the company that initiated the action on behalf of Universal, has yet to respond to our request for comment.

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