Open wifi threatened: internet cafes plagued by warnings

It goes without saying that the menu includes free internet access as well as cakes and pastries. Until recently, if you wanted to go online, you had to stay in the st. Oberholz only has to type in a well-known password. It is no longer that simple.

"Now you have to undergo an annoying registration procedure," argues ansgar oberholz. Until now, the cafe owner had set up a router himself, through which his guests could surf the net without restriction, but now he has handed over the task to a provider. Because in the past few months, several warning letters from law firms have fluttered in because guests in his house have violated copyrights.

Like many other cafe and restaurant owners and hoteliers, oberholz is afraid of high fines and penalties. He doesn’t know who is illegally downloading music in a cafe, sharing protected films or unlawfully passing on games. "As an innkeeper, he is not allowed to check what his guests are doing via his WLAN because of the secrecy of telecommunications," says thomas stadler, a specialist in IT law, who has cases like oberholz’s on his table all the time. He speaks of a real "warning industry".

The law firms claim that the operator of a wlan is liable for what happens from there. But that is not certain. "This question has not been decided by a high court," says stadler. There is a ruling of the federal court of justice (BGH) from may 2010, according to which a private person can be asked to pay if strangers illegally download music via an inadequately secured internet connection.

But this decision cannot be applied 1:1 to business people, says even the law firm kornmeier& partner, who won the verdict at the time. Defense lawyer stadler believes that the federal court of justice would come to a different conclusion in the case of innkeepers. "Nowadays it is generally expected that a cafe operator provides internet access for customers."Thus without WLAN the business model of the landlords would be endangered.

But lawyers like stadler have not yet found anyone who is willing to fight such a case through all the instances in order to create clarity. It ended up costing several thousand euros – money that small cafe owners don’t usually have. Media law attorney lars jaeschke explains that the warning letters, on the other hand, did not file suit because they had no interest in a model judgment. Finally, the tendencies of the federal court of justice showed that it had probably ruled in favor of the innkeepers. "At the moment, the warning agents seem to be living quite well from the legal uncertainty."

Bjorn frommer represents the rights of the copyright holders and thinks that the innkeepers should actually know how to protect themselves. "These are professionals in dealing with social regulations such as youth protection and alcohol." Frommer and many of his colleagues recommend: guests should agree on a start page to the general terms and conditions of the cafe that they do not do anything illegal. In addition, bartering agencies and certain internet sites could be technically switched off.

Internet service providers are also benefiting from the current situation – such as the company hotsplots, which is now providing the WLAN in the city center. Oberholz operates, or large companies like deutsche telekom, whose hotspots can be found in many rest stops, airports, hotels and mcdonald’s restaurants. "We had thought about becoming a provider ourselves," says oberholz. But all he really wants is to continue running his cafe. And it all sounded very complicated, so we didn’t pursue it any further"."

Now, oberholz sums up, everything is actually the same as before – only he is no longer warned off. And the lawyers don’t send letters to hotsplots, says its managing director, ulrich meier. "I assume that you will quickly leave it alone when you see that the internet connection is ours."Because they were unsuccessful with him. An innkeeper who provides WLAN is nothing other than a hotspot operator, says attorney stadler. It’s "kafkaesque," says oberholz.

The federal ministry of justice, on the other hand, says that the obligation to check what is happening in the WLAN "does not represent an unreasonable burden". The obligations for private individuals or innkeepers depend on what can be demanded of them in each individual case. Moreover, the liability of the innkeepers makes sense, "because in practice it is often the only way for the claimant to defend himself against infringement of rights. The perpetrators themselves often cannot be held accountable".

In fact, it is often impossible not only for copyright claimants, but even for police and prosecutors, to get to the actual perpetrators of crimes. In cafes and restaurants, WLAN access data is sometimes provided by cell phone, sometimes by e-mail address, sometimes on the cash register receipt or verbally from the waiter – without having to provide any personal data. Lawyers like kornmeier& partners advise WLAN operators to offer only registration with personal data such as a credit card.

Jens ferner, a lawyer familiar with internet law, believes that this is impracticable and that the laws must therefore be adapted to reality. "At the moment, innkeepers are trusting complete strangers not to do anything forbidden."But society also has to pay a price for unrestricted communication: "then illegal acts are committed without the perpetrator being held liable for them."

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