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CompuServe Germany boss sees porn conviction overturned

Battle of Somm ends with successful appeal

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Former-head of CompuServe in Germany, Felix Somm, has had his two-year suspended sentence for failing to block child porn sites overturned on appeal. The news has been met with relief by ISPs, providing a precedent for what would otherwise be a legal minefield for Web site hosters. Somm was convicted and fined £33,000 in May 1998 for 13 cases of aiding illegal pornography and for failure to block access to news groups hosted on CompuServe. As head of the company he was taken to be legally responsible for the sites which were "under his control". However, during appeal even the prosecution supported Somm in saying the original guilty verdict was wrong. Somm successfully argued that the sheer quantity of material passing through the company's fingers made vetting an impossibility. That does not mean ISPs are out of trouble, however. The appeal only decided that Somm's personal liability was unlawful - it fell short of saying that the ISP itself was free from responsibility over what sites under its banner contained. It remains to be seen how the law will be interpreted in future. ®

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