File Sharing

Forum administrator liable for unauthorised file sharing advice

In an appeal, a Berlin court has ruled it was right to order the administrator of a file sharing advice forum to delete some of the content. The court ruled that the self-help tips were unauthorised legal advice (Az. 103 O 60/13).

Forum administrator liable for unauthorised file sharing advice © Africa Studio - Fotolia.com

Forum administrator liable for unauthorised file sharing advice © Africa Studio – Fotolia.com

File sharing tips on self-help website

These days, if feeling unwell, people often research the symptoms online first before going to the doctors. There are self-help websites on almost any topic. Following this trend, a person in Germany created a self-help website for file sharing (www.initiative-abmahnwahn.de).

The aim of the website was to offer a place for people accused of file sharing to share tips and experiences.

The website also contained legal tips including the following concerning limitation periods: “Rule of thumb on limitation period for a file sharing warning letter dated 02/2010: begin at the end of the year – 12:00 p.m., 31.12.2010; end 12:00 p.m. on 31.12.2013”.

Unauthorised legal advice

The court ruled that such specific tips about limitation periods amounted to giving unauthorised legal advice, as the user who had posted the information was not legally qualified.

The administrator of the forum refused to delete the entries. As a result, the court held him directly liable for giving unauthorised legal advice.

Specific legal advice is not permitted

There is nothing against openly discussing controversial legal topics on internet forums.

However, problems arise when a user asks a question which relates directly to their own case or to the case of a person they know.

Only persons who are legal qualified and authorised to give legal advice may provide advice and information to answer such questions. Any other person who attempts to answer such questions would be giving unauthorised legal advice.

Lawyers at WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE take the view that the particular content in this forum was not case-specific and did not answer a specific legal question. The Regional Court of Berlin, however, reached a different conclusion.

The administrator of the forum announced he would continue his legal battle and claimed he would not give up the fight against the file sharing warning letter madness in Germany.

Who may give legal advice in forums?

Under § 2(1) of Germany’s Legal Services Act only persons who are authorised may give specific legal advice to an unknown person.

If the advice is given free of charge, it is sufficient that the person giving the advice can provide evidence of having passed the second state exam (e.g. lawyer, judge, assessor) or evidence of having been accredited by an official body.

This legal provision is wise, as a person who gives legal advice in specific cases must also be covered by appropriate insurance, which means that if negligent advice is given, the client can seek compensation.

Whether and to what extent a lawyer may give legal advice in forums has not yet been clarified by the courts.

Whilst lawyers giving legal advice in forums does not infringe German law on the provision of legal services, it may breach § 4(1) of the Germany’s Lawyers’ Fees Act. This paragraph sets out the strict conditions under which lawyers may provide services for free.

Conclusion

Administrators of self-help websites should ensure that the content they display does encompass untrained lawyers discussing specific legal questions relating to specific cases.

They should remove such entries, at the very latest, when they receive a request to do so.

Christian Solmecke is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE. He is the author of numerous legal publications in the area of internet and IT law. He is also an associate lecturer for social media law at the Cologne University of Applied Sciences.

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