German court: Rapidshare must HUNT for dodgy pirate links

Site expected to be 'proactive' in preventing copyright infringement

The operators of a file-hosting website must search for and pro-actively prevent material identified as copyright-infringing from being uploaded by users, a court in Germany has ruled.

A Higher Regional Court in Hamburg said Rapidshare had not done enough to tackle piracy and said the company should delete "infringing download links" and search for others "selectively in link resources" online and prevent them be made publicly available on its site, according to an automated translation of a statement issued by the court.

The court made the ruling after considering separate cases brought against Rapidshare by music rights group GEMA and book publishers De Gruyter and Campus. Previously a regional German court had held that Rapidshare was under an obligation to monitor the copyright status of all musical works made available on its site.

The German Bookseller's Association said the ruling meant "internet sites could no longer shirk their responsibilities and achieve illicit financial gain" on the back of infringing behaviour by anonymous users, according to an article by German website Buch Report.

However, Rapidshare said it was "unprofessional" to comment on a judgment before it had been published and said it was "relaxed and look[ing] forward to reading the written reasons for the judgment that are expected to be published within the next few days," according to a report by the Torrent Freak website.

The company said the court had "indicated that it would deviate from its former position" that Rapidshare's entire business was unlawful, according to the report.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has previously ruled that internet service providers (ISPs) and social networking websites cannot be forced by national courts into broadly filtering internet users' activity to identify copyright infringing material.

In the two rulings it said that national courts cannot force ISPs to use filter systems, installed at ISPs' own expense and used for an unlimited period, to monitor all its customers' electronic communications to prevent illegal file-sharing. It said that such an order would breach ISPs' rights to freely conduct business and individuals' rights to privacy, free speech and the protection of their personal data.

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