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German federal court: ISPs must hand over pirates' details to rights holders

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German ISPs must hand over the names and addresses of customers if a judge determines that they have been involved in copyright infringement, according to a ruling by the country's Federal Court of Justice.

German Flag stock (Flickr/fdecomite)
German Flag stock (Flickr/fdecomite)

Germany's Federal Court of Justice has ruled that ISPs must in future hand over the names and addresses of known pirates and file sharers to rights holders. The ruling is, however, restricted to cases in which a judge has determined conclusively that an IP address is involved in copyright infringement and the powers cannot be used speculatively.

According to a court statement, the decision is the result of a long-running legal battle between German singer-songwriter Xavier Naidoo's record label Naidoo Records and the communications company Deutsche Telekom. It overturns two previous rulings by the regional court and the regional appeals court of Cologne, which sought to restrict the handover of personal information to cases of piracy on a "commercial scale."

The decision comes as ISPs around the world try to adapt to a new era of stringent anti-piracy regulation, with many, like Deutsche Telekom, attempting to hold out, while others bite the bullet and cooperate fully with rights holders. Earlier this year, the four largest ISPs in the US launched the Center for Copyright Information, a third-party enforcement organization run in collaboration with the MPAA and RIAA industry bodies. Whether similar groups could emerge in Europe remains to be seen.