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Top German court clears way for free Wi-Fi

July 26, 2018

Visitors to Germany are often struck by the lack of free Wi-Fi — now the country has cleared one of the last hurdles. The supreme court has upheld a rule shielding companies offering hot spots from copyright prosecution.

A woman at a wooden desk with a cellphone and laptop
Image: Imago/Westend61/G. Fochesato

Germany's highest criminal court on Thursday upheld a law protecting companies and individuals who provide free Wi-Fi hot spots from prosecution if an unknown user downloads copyrighted content.

Although the regulation has been in place since 2017, many businesses have been wary to open free Wi-Fi hot spots for fear that even if they wouldn't get in trouble under German law, they might still be prosecuted for copyright infringement under European law.

The case at hand actually revolved around a somewhat older incident — a man who was charged for illegally uploading a copyrighted game in 2013 was challenging the fine he was asked to pay.

The IT worker had made several servers running the encrypted communication software Tor available, and one user had downloaded the game Dead Island, published by the German video game firm Deep Silver, a subsidiary of Koch Media.

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In Thursday's ruling, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) decided that the 2017 German telemedia law was compatible with EU regulations. As such, the case is likely to go to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Brussels for a final decision.

According to the decision, it is within the rights of Wi-Fi providers to shut down access to file sharing services and block certain websites.

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Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.