RapidShare responsible for copyright violations of users, court says
Business and Law Features

RapidShare responsible for copyright violations of users, court says

Duesseldorf (Germany) – German content licensing authority GEMA says it has “achieved and important victory” against RapidShare, which allows users to save and share files. A district ruled in favor of GEMA and confirmed that RapidShare has to take responsibility for copyright violations taking place on its servers. A shutdown of RapidShare is a possibility, but there appears to be a lengthy legal battle on the road ahead.

Switzerland-based RapidShare, which describes itself as “1-Click Webhoster”, has been under fire by GEMA - a representative of more than 1 million copyright owners worldwide – since January 2007, when a German court imposed a first injunction against the website. Over the past year, appeals and counterclaims against GEMA have been filed and RapidShare was at least partially successful in August of this year as the district court in Cologne ruled that the website simply has to deny access to the external link site rapidshared.org/link.io. The court also ruled that RapidShare is not responsibility for copyright violations of its users.

In a ruling rendered on January 23, the district court of Duesseldorf, Germany, however, reversed that opinion. As a result, the court required the website to take “comprehensive action”. The company will have to “implement measures” may result in a “less attractive” business model or a “shutdown” of the website. RapidShare allegedly hosts more than 15 million music files, most of them illegal, according to the court.   

GEMA representatives reacted to the ruling by saying they were glad that “another court” has been convinced that RapidShares actively takes part in copyright violations. “This is a milestone in our battle against the illegal use of our portfolio. It is a signal that services profiting from the illegal use of our material will have to take appropriate measures to protect copyright holders and, at the same time, cannot simply point to the actions of individual users,” said GEMA chairman Harald Heker in a prepared statement.

RapidShare said that this ruling will not affect its current business operations and that it will file an appeal against the ruling.

A quick decision in the case is unlikely, as rulings in Germany this and similar cases have been inconsistent. For example, the district court in Cologne recently ruled in favor of provider Usenet against EMI, which complained about copyright violations within the Usenet network. RapidShare said in a statement that its goal is to achieve “consistency of judgements”. “We believe that it does not make sense to generally accuse the Internet and hosting services that it can, as any other infrastructure, be abused,” said Booby Chang, CEO of RapidShare.

Upcoming proceedings are expected to define the obligations of RapidShare to prevent copyright violations on its servers.