FC: Compuserve executive indicted for carrying Usenet

Rohit Khare (khare@w3.org)
Wed, 16 Apr 1997 15:49:21 -0400 (EDT)

The German machine fights doggedly on, eh? Wow, I thought they'd resolved this
by now... Could be exciting. RK

PS, Would std. corporate liability insurance cover legal fees here?

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Reuters / April 16, 1997

MUNICH, Germany--German prosecutors said yesterday they have indicted
the managing director of the German unit of commercial online service
CompuServe in connection with distributing pornography over the

In a move that could be a test case in the power of public authorities
to regulate the global computer network, Bavarian prosecutors said the
CompuServe manager was being charged with aiding in the distribution
of child pornography.

Compuserve officials in Munich said the company was preparing a
statement to be issued later in the day.

The indictment was issued on February 26 but was not made public until
yesterday. The announcement does not name the CompuServe executive who
has been indicted but the managing director of CompuServe's German
subsidiary is Felix Somm.

CompuServe spokesman Steve Conway confirmed that Somm was indeed the
official who was indicted. Conway added that German authorities are
putting CompuServe in the impossible situation of having to censor the
Internet. "People can get to what's on the Internet," he said, adding
that CompuServe does not have a lot of control over content unless it
blocks sites entirely. CompuServe does allow members to individually
screen content using CyberPatrol.

The charges follow an investigation that began at the end of 1995,
when prosecutors forced CompuServe to shut down access to more than
200 Internet news groups, some of which were suspected of displaying
pornographic images of children. Child pornography is illegal in

Despite widespread doubts about the liability of online services for
content on their network, the Bavarian prosecutors believe such
services should be held responsible when writings or images outlawed
in Germany but on computers somewhere else in the world are made
accessible to Germans through the Internet.

The prosecutors said the charges raised against the CompuServe
director include violations of youth protection laws and laws against
child pornography.

They cited transmission of images of violent sex, sex with children,
and sex with animals, which the prosecutors said the CompuServe
manager could have prevented from being distributed over the company's
network in Germany.

The indictment also includes charges against the CompuServe executive
for allowing a computer game to be transmitted over the company's
network that includes photographs of Adolf Hitler and Nazi party
symbols such as the swastika, which are not allowed to be displayed
publicly in Germany.


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