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Bavaria convicts former CompuServe boss in porn case

Verdict has serious implications for ISPs

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A year ago From The Register No. 79 -- a year ago CompuServe's former German boss has been handed a two year suspended sentence following conviction in a pornography case. Felix Somm was prosecuted in a Bavarian court for complicity in 13 cases of spreading pornography via the Internet, but says he plans to appeal. Somm's case is at the centre of a long-running battle between CompuServe and the Bavarian authorities, and although it's now at least debatable whether it could have been brought under current German federal law (which was amended last year), has global implications. Germany now regards Internet Service Providers as carriers, rather than publishers who can be held responsible for content accessed via their systems, which is the position ISPs prefer and in line with global regulatory trends. Bavaria however doesn't agree with this approach - its police force actively seeks out illegal material on the Internet, and in sentencing Somm the court made it clear that it intended to enforce its view of the law electronically. For Germany's heavily decentralised administration this may present a difficult constitutional clash between the federal government and its largest state, but if Bavaria does continue its campaign it will cause major problems for ISPs operating in the state, and conceivably for operations anywhere in the world. A further sign that the 'liberal' approach to Internet regulation is not yet global policy meanwhile came last week, when a British academic sued UK ISP Demon Internet over the content of a newsgroup carried by the company - here again the issue to be decided will be whether Demon is a carrier or a publisher. ®

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