German Court Rules Domain Registrars Liable For Some Pirate Site Infringements

A German court has ruled that domain name registrars can be held liable if a website owner is unresponsive to takedown requests, according to a TorrentFreak report, even when the infringing activity is limited to a single page.

The ruling came from the Higher Regional Court of
Saarbrücken who ruled that even a single link can require a registrar to take a
domain offline. TorrentFreak reports the case was filed by Universal Music over
Robin Thicke’s album Blurred Lines and a now defunct torrent site. A similar
order has hit The Pirate Bay as well.

The case first came to be noticed in September 2013 when
H33T.com, one of the most-visited torrent sites at the time, disappeared.
TorrentFreak notes 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 appealed the ruling due in part to the precedent
it set but at the time had no other option than to comply. Now TorrentFreak
reveals 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 Bundesverband Musikindustrie (BVMI, German Federal Music Industry Association) has expressed satisfaction with the ruling.

“This is a further important clarification for the benefit of the creative and its partners, which helps ensure that the contours of the adjudicated Internet become increasingly clear and fair,” said René Houareau, Managing Director, Law and Policy at the BVMI [in German].

“The OLG affirms the responsibility of the so-called registrars under clearly defined conditions and are affected rights holders so that another important legal means at hand to defend themselves against the illegal use of their content on the Web.

“As the Registrar, in contrast to an access provider, has a contractual relationship to the one who is actually responsible for the making available of copyright illegal content, the Court here rightly rejects a merely subsidiary liability and in particular with regard to an effective redress in favour of the rights holders.”

However the website in question is no longer online. H33T reappeared
first at H33T.eu and later at H33t.to.

TorrentFreak notes how the German ruling can affect other
sites and registrars as well. They note a similar legal battle involving the
registrar 1 API who lost a case earlier this year that required it them 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 told TorrentFreak 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.

TorrentFreak further reports that the “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.”

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