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Music Industry

Parents off the hook for kids' illegal downloads

The Federal Court of Justice in Germany has ruled that the parents of a 13-year-old are not responsible for their son's illegal file sharing and do not have to pay a fine. The decision overturns a previous ruling.

The court in the city of Karlsruhe ruled on Thursday that the parents had done enough to deter their son from illegal file sharing by warning him that it is against the law. Any further efforts, such as using surveillance software to check if the boy had listened, were deemed by the court to be excessive.

"Parents are not fundamentally obligated to monitor the Internet usage of a child, to search a child's computer, or to (partially) block a child's access to the Internet," the ruling read.

Such actions would only be deemed reasonable if a parent saw signs that a child was engaged in criminal activity, the court ruled.

The family was facing 3,000 euros ($3,800) in music industry copyright-infringement fines. The boy had downloaded over a thousand songs and posted them to music sharing services in 2007, but the court case was over 15 specific instances of copyright infringement.

Previous decision reversed

A previous ruling from the higher regional court in Cologne had decided in favor of four music labels that had filed the case, alleging that the boy's parents had neglected their duty of supervision.

The decision of the Federal Court of Justice reverses this, which could serve as an important precedent in future cases.

An interview with German Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, set for publication on Friday in the Munich Merkur newspaper, indicated that she welcomes the court's decision.

"The decision highlights the fact that you don't have to monitor everything that can be monitored," the paper quoted Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger as saying. "Parents don't have to spy on their 13-year-old kids."

mz/msh (dapd, Reuters, dpa)