Hamburg court rules against forum providers

By EDRi · April 26, 2006

The first-instance court of Hamburg gave its final ruling on the liability
of forum comments, stating that moderators of internet forums are liable
for content posted on their sites.

Initially, the legislation held forum providers liable for illegal content
they had knowledge about and there was no obligation for them to search for
such content. This interpretation was now overruled by the Hamburg court who
considered providing forums as a business operation. Therefore forum
providers should be able to have sufficient staff and means to check out
comments on their forums. As the court stated, in case they cannot operate
accordingly, “they either have to expand their in-house resources or […]
reduce the scope of their business operations,”

The case originating the ruling was that of a forum member of German news
site Heise Online, who posted a script disrupting the business practices of
Universal Boards, a Munich company criticised for allegedly distributing
premium rate internet dialers and also accused of buying up expired domain
names to use them for advertising porn. The company asked the publisher to
remove the script, which it did, but it refused to sign a formal obligation.
Universal Boards then obtained from the district court a temporary
restraining order.

Without taking account of the argument given by Heise that verifying the
contents of more than 200,000 comments per month would be an unreasonable
burden on the publisher, the court considered that a publisher should have
been able to prevent such situations by “reviewing the content of the
comments before publishing them.”

The court was not clear in whether every Web forum could be held liable or
only the services of the press. The statement refers to “people who operate
facilities in which content is disseminated as in the press.” And this
“also applied for companies that disseminate content via the Internet.” As a
result, probably every Internet forum will enter this category.
Heise is appealing this ruling.

First-instance district court of Hamburg says forum operators are liable for
comments (18.04.2006)

German court rules moderators liable for forum comments (21.04.2006)