German court rules that a parent is responsible for their child's downloading and web activity

News by Dan Raywood

A court in Germany has ruled that parents can be legally responsible for the unlawful behaviour of their children when using a home internet connection.

A court in Germany has ruled that parents can be legally responsible for the unlawful behaviour of their children when using a home internet connection.

According to the Pinsent & Masons blog out-law.com, the court ruled that a woman in Germany had a duty to monitor the use to which her internet connection was put.

She said that she forbade her children from using the home computer and internet connection to engage in copyright-infringing behaviour. However around 1,000 songs were made available from that connection and she was sued by record labels. The woman argued that she did not make the songs available and that it was due to the actions of one or more of her five children.

The court said that the woman must be liable for the activity.

"Which children have used the port, she did not say. In a response formulated by lawyers ... the 'older children' are mentioned. It remains unclear whether the middle child is counted among the users or not," the ruling stated.

"Given this overall lack of speech it must be the responsibility of the defendant for the alleged violations."

During the case it was revealed that the woman had "constantly reminded" her children not to engage in illegal file sharing.

Both Scots law and English law state that a parent generally is not liable for the actions of their child, and that a civil judgment is as binding on a child as it is on an adult.

There are however, some circumstances in which a parent can become responsible for the child's actions. That can happen when a child causes injury to others or where a parent has previously authorised or subsequently ratified the child's unlawful act.

The case may have ramifications for the Digital Economy Bill, particularly as internet service provider TalkTalk has argued that someone blocked from the internet could use it again via an unsecured WiFi connection.

John Lovelock, chief executive of the Federation against Software Theft (FAST), said: "My position to stop the kids getting up to mischief would be to a) set up a password control for the PC and only allow the kids to use it supervised, if they show no will to use it properly, and b) have security software installed to prevent them using illegal sites failing which they lose the connection after sufficient warnings and offers of guidance.

As is the case quite often, children display the attitudes of parents where supervision of them is insufficient, and if the parents don't take responsibility for their kids' actions who is it down to in the end, they only learn when deprived of things they enjoy doing or having."

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