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Cool cafés in customer download dilemma

The Local · 3 Apr 2012, 12:44

Published: 03 Apr 2012 12:44 GMT+02:00

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More and more German cafés have been offering free wireless internet access to lure customers to their lattes and cakes, particularly in fashionable city centres, where the coffee bar competition is fierce.

Ansgar Oberholz, owner of favourite hipster haunt St. Oberholz in central Berlin, has had to give up the café's own router and delegated his internet access to an external provider in order to protect himself legally. Gone are the days when guests could use his internet with a password that everyone knew.

"Now you have to go through an annoying registration procedure," he said.

Oberholz received several cease-and-desist letters from avaricious lawyers over the last few months because guests were violating copyright by illegally downloading media.

Like many café-, restaurant- and hotel owners, Oberholz is now being threatened with heavy fines.

"As a landlord, he is not even legally allowed to check what his guests are doing over his wireless connection, since their correspondence is protected by privacy law," said IT lawyer Thomas Stadler.

The issue has become a complex legal dispute, since copyright lawyers, who make huge profits by sending out hundreds of thousands of letters every year, insist that landlords are liable for what their internet connection is used for.

"This question has not been settled by the highest courts yet," said Stadler.

Although Germany's constitutional court did decide in May 2010 that private individuals were liable for their own internet connection, even if they did not download files personally, the issue is still not clear-cut for businesses.

Story continues below…

Copyright lawyer Björn Frommer thinks café owners should be able to find a simple way to cover themselves – "They are professionals in dealing with social rules like under-age drinking," he pointed out. He says guests could be made to click on a terms and conditions agreement on a start page, or cafés could block file-sharing sites.

The Local/DPA/bk

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

15:29 April 3, 2012 by catjones
The ingenuity of german lawyers make American lawyers look like charitable angels.
15:46 April 3, 2012 by michael4096
Using the same logic, I guess, these cafes are also guilty of incitement to racial hatred, planning and abetting terrorist activity and hacking. Shame on them.
11:11 April 4, 2012 by KevinL
Two things, firstly this is ridiculous, as with the previous comment (michael4096) If someone steals my car and robs a bank with it, will I be charged for unknowingly providing the get away vehicle... There are so many situations this can be applied to.. Its just pure greed on the part of lawyers.

Secondly, it has been discussed in other forums and blogs etc. about how these lawyers might be or are illegally obtaining their information. I think before anyone pays these ridiculous fines they should check to see how their private information was obtained. The other thing to note is, what is their relationship with the recording/film companies, are they on retainers, contracted or on commision etc.
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