Germany clears Net chief of child porn charges

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The Independent Online
IN A LANDMARK ruling that confirms the Internet as a borderless medium beyond the reach of national laws, the Bavarian high court yesterday overturned a conviction against the German head of the service provider Compuserve for purveying child pornography.

Felix Somm had been found guilty last year by a Munich court for complicity in 13 cases of distributing illegal pornography. He was said to have failed to block customers' access to those sites. He received a two- year suspended jail sentence, and a DM100,000 (pounds 33,500) fine.

That verdict was greeted with astonishment by experts who said Internet sites were almost impossible to block. There had been alarm when Compuserve sought to avoid prosecution in Germany by stopping access to 200 message boards. In 1996, the United States-based company introduced software allowing customers to filter material. But Germany took a stand against the tide of Nazi propaganda and child pornography, and in 1997 Mr Somm was charged.

Yesterday's judgment lets Internet providers off the hook, but does not solve the dilemma of how free societies can guard against anti- social materials flowing freely in the new media.

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