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Amazon not liable for e-book copyright infringement

A court in Germany recently ruled that the online shop Amazon cannot be held liable for copyright infringements contained in the e-books it sells. However, with an appeal likely, it remains to be seen whether the judgment will become legally binding.

Amazon not liable for e-book copyright infringement © Africa Studio - Fotolia.com
Amazon not liable for e-book copyright infringement © Africa Studio – Fotolia.com

The court reached the judgment in an action brought by the granddaughter of the late performer Karl Valentin after she discovered that an e-book being sold on Amazon’s Kindle shop contained excerpts from one of his works.

Valentin’s granddaughter sent Amazon Media a warning letter claiming that as copyright holder, she had not given permission for the e-book to contain the excerpts. She requested from Amazon that the content be removed from the website and that the company submit a declaration to cease and desist.

Amazon removed the infringing content but failed to submit the cease and desist form.

Valentin’s granddaughter subsequently sued Amazon, but having been rejected in both the lower court and on appeal, her claim has remained unsuccessful, (judgment from 24.10.2013 case ref.: 29 U 885/13).

The Higher Regional Court ruled that online distance sellers such as Amazon can only be held liable for copyright infringements in e-books they sell, if they have knowledge of the infringements.

The court compared the situation to general book stores, which are similarly under no obligation to examine the books they sell for possible copyright infringements. The judges reached the conclusion that it would be unreasonable to place online business under such an obligation.

Appeal

As this case concerns an important point of law for all online and traditional books shops, the court gave permission for the case to be further appealed to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof). The current judgment is therefore not yet legally binding. We will keep you informed of any developments in this case.

For more information on German copyright law, especially if you run an online business or a traditional book shop, our team of expert German lawyers is available to answer your questions.