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German court rules moderators liable for forum comments

Lawyers on the edge

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A Hamburg court has ruled that moderators of internet forums are liable for content posted on their sites.

The previous interpretation held that they were only accountable for illegal content they had been made aware of. The new ruling means if operators do not have enough in-house resources to monitor forums, they should "reduce the scope of their business operations".

The case started with a forum member of German news site Heise Online, who posted a script in order to disrupt the business practices of Universal Boards. This Munich company has been widely criticised for allegedly distributing premium rate internet dialers. Universal Boards was also accused of buying up domain names that expired, and then using those domains for advertising porn, including a site that was previously owned by a German Volunteer Firemen's Association.

Last year Universal Boards demanded that Heise removed the script, which it did, but the publisher refused to sign a formal obligation. Universal Boards then asked the district court to issue a temporary restraining order. The legal fight continued until last week, when the judge handed down his final ruling.

Legal experts now fear that because of the ruling, lawyers will be seeking damages from moderators who they believe are breaking the law. Heise says it will appeal the ruling.®

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