"File-sharing service RapidShare has been dealt a blow by a German court and faces severe penalties if it fails to take appropriate measures against the uploading of copyrighted content by its users. The Düsseldorf Regional Court ruled against RapidShare last week in a case brought on by the German version of the RIAA, GEMA. GEMA hailed the decision as a huge victory, and concluded that RapidShare could face shutdown if it's unable to comply."
"RapidShare has long argued that it can't be held responsible for what its users upload to the site. But the court disagreed, saying that the site must take responsibility for copyright infringement, even when the material in question was uploaded by its members. "This decision marks a milestone in the fight against illegal usage of our repertoire," said GEMA CEO Dr. Harald Heker in a statement. "It sends out a clear signal that any services, which derive financial benefit from unlawful uses of our works, will have to take extensive measures to protect the rights owners and cannot simply evade liability by referring to the action of individual users. With this landmark decision, the way has been paved for instituting proceedings against other similar services."
Had this involved a US court, the outcome would have been different. In the US, web site operators can (and do) argue that the Safe Harbor provision in the DMCA protects them from liability as long as they remove infringing content after being presented with a takedown notice. In Germany (and many other countries), there is no equivalent to protect sites like RapidShare, meaning that RapidShare almost has little but to comply with the ruling. According to GEMA, the court said that RapidShare must "take such measures as involve the risk of its business model becoming much less attractive or even having to be discontinued entirely."
This is exactly how companies like Viacom would like things to play out here in the US. Big Content would love to hold sites like YouTube responsible for checking, in advance, every single item uploaded to the site, and have them held liable for any infringing content that ends up online. Instead, the Safe Harbor provision requires them filing takedown notices every time they come across something that might be infringing. Big Content is also pushing hard for filtering solutions that it believes could provide the solution to all their problems. Unfortunately, filters don't understand fair use, and their use could result in legitimate content being kept offline.
As for RapidShare, it's unclear what will happen next. Christian Solmecke, an attorney for the site, told TorrentFreak that the outcome of the case is unusual, because it would require RapidShare to perform the nearly impossible task of checking every single item in its hosted materials for copyrights. "I believe that Rapidshare will appeal against the decision of the Landgericht (District Court) of Düsseldorf," Solmecke said. "If they do so, we will have to wait and see what the Oberlandesgericht (Higher District Court) of Düsseldorf (as the Court of Appeal) says.""
By Jacqui Cheng | Published: January 29, 2008 - 12:13PM CT