German Net boss found guilty of distributing porn

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The Independent Online
BONN (AP) - In a surprise verdict that could stunt multimedia growth in Germany, a Munich court yesterday convicted the former head of CompuServe Germany of helping to distribute pornography by not blocking dirty pictures available on the Internet.

The court convicted Felix Somm even though prosecutors had reversed their position and asked for his acquittal.

In closing arguments they agreed with the defence that it was technically impossible to filter out all such material on the global network.

But Judge Wilhelm Hubbert said that contention was "simply false."

Reading his decision in court, the judge said CompuServe had let "protecting the young ... take second place to maximising profits," adding that he wanted the verdict in order to deter other Internet- access providers from doing the same.

The court sentenced Somm to two years' probation and ordered him to pay DM100,000 (pounds 35,000) to charity.

His attorney, Wolfgang Dingfelder, called the verdict "complete rubbish" and promised an appeal.

Internet experts warned that the ruling could be highly dangerous for Germany's developing multimedia industry, which has been promoted as a source of growth and jobs for the 21st century.

Joerg Tauss, a federal lawmaker from the opposition Social Democrats, called it "a catastrophe" that would "ruin the Internet in Germany."

Christopher Kuner, a Frankfurt attorney representing several multimedia firms, said it might make some reconsider doing business in Germany.

"It's going to create a sort of chilling climate in terms of new investment," he predicted.

Even the prosecutor, Franz von Hunoltstein, said the decision would have "very clear economic effects."

The case began in December 1995, when Bavarian prosecutors searched CompuServe offices as part of an investigation into online pornography.

Mr Kuner said that the verdict showed that Germany's wide-ranging multimedia law, which government officials said would provide a boost to the industry when it was passed last year, was too vague: "The law was touted as removing the possibility for this happening. This is going to have a very bad effect."

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