Germany will end copyright liability for open wifi operators

Germany's ruling coalition is modifying the country's legal "Störerhaftung" theory, which currently makes people liable for copyright infringement if they operate an open wifi network that someone else uses for copyright infringement, even if the operator didn't and couldn't know about it.

This liability theory is frequently cited in German court cases over file-sharing.

The legal change comes after a German Pirate Party member brought a case to the European Court of Justice in which he challenged Sony's demand that he lock down his wifi network after an unknown party used it to download some music published by Sony's record label.

The change will make life much harder for copyright trolls — fraudsters who send "invoices" to people claiming that they have infringed copyright, and demanding a settlement to forestall a lawsuit. Under the old law, a troll could argue that his victim should pay up because they would be liable regardless of whether they (or anyone they knew) had downloaded anything.

This means that both private and small scale WiFi operators (such as café owners) will soon enjoy the same freedom from liability enjoyed by commercial operators.
No splash-pages or password locks will be required meaning that open WiFi hotspots will at last become as freely available in Germany as they are already in countries such as France and the UK.

Pressure had been mounting on the German government following a European Court of Justice opinion published in March which held that entities operating unsecured wireless networks should not be held liable for the copyright infringements of third parties.