German ISPs must hand over to content rights holders the names and address of people connected to an IP address used for sharing material illegally, the German Federal Court of Justice ruled, a court spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
However, the information can only be given to the rights holder if a judge rules that the file sharer indeed infringed on copyright, said Dietlind Weinland, spokeswoman of the German Federal Court. The Federal Court is the highest ordinary court in the German judicial system and its decisions can only be overturned by the constitutional court.
The court ruled in a case between music distribution company Naidoo Records and Deutsche Telekom on Friday. Naidoo Record manages the music portfolio of Xavier Naidoo, and the company noticed in September 2011 that the song "Bitte hör nicht auf zu träumen" (Please don't stop dreaming) was offered for download on a file sharing site, according to the court. The record company noticed that dynamic IP addresses were used to share the song -- addresses that constantly change and cannot be tied to one user, the court said in a news release.
Naidoo records demanded to know which Deutsche Telekom customers had used the IP addresses at certain points in time to determine which customer was likely using that IP address to share the song, the court said.
By ruling that ISPs have to hand over personal data of file sharers to rights holders, the Federal Court overturned two previous rulings by the regional court and the regional appeals court of Cologne, Weinland said. Those courts both ruled the information did not have to be disclosed because the infringement was not on a commercial scale.
The Federal Court annulled those decisions and ruled that it is also permitted to provide name and address of illegal file sharers in cases not on a commercial scale, if it is possible to know who was using an IP address at the time of the infringement, the court said. Such a request is justified and proportional weighing the rights of the rights holder, the information providers and the users, even when the violation happens on a noncommercial scale, the Federal Court said.