RapidShare Fined $33 million for Violating German Copyright Laws

Court rules site, and others like it, are responsible for ensuring copyrighted material isn’t illegally hosted on their servers.

The Hamburg Regional Court of Germany has ruled against German-owned file hosting website RapidShare this past Tuesday. It found the site guilty of violation of German copyright law and set damages at about €24 million ($33.4 million).

In what could prove a key precedent, the court found Rapidshare, and by extension similar file-sharing sites, bear principle responsibility for ensuring copyright-protected material is not illegally posted on their servers.

The ruling was a major victory for German royalty collection agency GEMA, which had brought the suit against Rapidshare for allowing some 5,000 protected music titles to be posted on their site.

“The judgment states that the hosting service itself is now responsible for making sure that none of the music tracks concerned are distributed via its platform in the future,” said GEMA in a press release. “This means that the copyright holder is no longer required to perform the ongoing and complex checks.”

“The judgment of the Regional Court of Hamburg marks a milestone in GEMA’s efforts to combat the illegal use of music works on the Internet,” said Dr. Harald Heker, CEO of GEMA, in a statement. “GEMA will continue to do everything it can to shield its members from online piracy. We are confident that in this way we will be able to reduce the illegal use of the GEMA repertoire on the Internet to a negligible level.”

Bobby Chang, COO of RapidShare AG, played down the significance of the verdict.

“We do not consider the court’s decision to be a breakthrough,” he said afterwards. “As other proceedings in similar disputes with GEMA have shown, there is considerable disparity amongst the individual courts in some cases.”

“Our experience is that the courts of appeal tend to restrict the scope of the decisions made by the lower courts. For this reason, we think that it would make more sense to work together to provide music fans with the right services at the right price and to open up a new source of income for music-markets on the Internet.”

RapidShare’s been under assault by copyright holders for a while now, it’s most recent attacker being German book publishers who wanted the site placed on the ISP’s blacklist of blocked sites.

Stay tuned.

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