The excellent German-language web site Heise Online reports that, after a German court refused to allow the European counterpart of the RIAA to use German 'criminal' proceedings as a means of obtaining information from ISP's about allegedly file sharing subscribers -- for use in obtaining monetary settlements -- German prosecutors will no longer help the RIAA identify supposed file sharers:
Public prosecutors refuse to collect IP address-related information from providersComplete Article (in English)
A report by heise online on a ruling by the Local Court in Offenburg on the determining of identities of P2P network users by prosecuting authorities has had repercussions in the media. The editorial staff has meanwhile seen older decisions by public prosecutors' offices that point in the same direction. The decision reached in the above case can thus no longer be thought of as a single-case decision.
On the grounds of "obvious disproportionateness" the Local Court (AG) in Offenburg had on July 20 prohibited the local public prosecutor's office from requesting that a provider reveal the personal data that match the IP addresses of alleged P2P network users. Offering a few copyright-protected music tracks via a P2P network client was "a petty offense," the court declared.
That the Local Court is not alone in seeing matters this way is revealed by a lengthy letter written by the public prosecutor's office in Celle, dated February 20, 2007; a copy of which heise online has seen. The letter was written in response to a complaint filed by the law firm of Schutt-Waetke, known for filing complaints on a massive scale. The law firm had earlier filed a vast number of complaints against persons alleged to have made copyright-protected music available for download within the context of a file-sharing network with the public prosecutor's office in Hanover. Because the public prosecutor's office in Hanover had refused to determine the individuals associated with the IP addresses submitted by the law firm, a process that would have involved forcing the providers to reveal the relevant personal data, Schutt-Waetke had written a letter of complaint to the chief public prosecutor's office in Celle, which is the supervising authority when it comes to the public prosecutor's office in Hanover.
The supervising authority dismissed the complaint as baseless. It moreover agreed with the reasoning of the public prosecutor's office in Hanover according to which it was doubtful whether the client of Schutt-Waetke was genuinely interested in initiating criminal proceedings. The case did not fulfill the indispensable condition of an investigation being in the public interest, because the offenses committed by the alleged users of the file-sharing network had not "disturbed law and order beyond the sphere of life of the client," the chief public prosecutor's office in Celle declared. In addition the offenses were "minor." And there was no evidence that substantial damage had been done. The chief public prosecutor's office goes on to say that "some parties may regret the fact" that the legislator has not given holders of copyrights a civil law right to obtain the type of information in question from providers. Such parties "could not however expect such omissions on the part of the legislator to be offset in other areas and in every minor case by the endeavors of the prosecuting authorities with their limited resources."
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