The German federal government has called for Internet Service Providers to take more responsibility for illegal content on their networks, but it has resisted any measures to block copyright infringers' access to the Internet.

"This is not a viable alternative as it constitutes severe interference with the freedom of communication," said Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, the German federal minister of justice, in a speech on copyright at Berlin's Academy of Science.

She went on to say that the German federal government would not be taking any steps to introduce Internet access restrictions or caps on broadband.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that she favored issuing early warnings to copyright offenders about their behavior. "This can have an educational effect," she stated, adding that such a warning system would be viable only if it was possible to implement it technically without any content control and without recording any data.

"A statutory restriction on personal Internet use is out of the question," she stressed.

ISP Responsibility

The minister called for ISPs to assume greater responsibility in protecting copyrights, stating that this responsibility was not taken seriously in many parts of the Internet.

"Some of these [Web site] platforms are clearly designed to be used almost solely for sharing copyright music and films," she said. "These are most definitely not the creative and innovative business models that we want to see on the Internet."

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that she regretted that many ISPs were offloading all responsibility for such evident copyright breaches onto their customers. "ISPs surely have a vital interest in ensuring that their business models are not misused as platforms for illegal activities. Unless this changes, the call for greater regulation will grow stronger," she said.

She also criticized companies who advertise on the Internet as well as those offering guidelines on illegal downloads. "Serious companies advertising on dubious platforms and specialist magazines publishing instructions inciting their readers to engage in illegal practices encourage breaches of copyright," she explained.

Europe-wide Licensing

In addition, the minister called for identical rules for collection societies in Europe.

"To date, the European Commission has only acted sporadically in this area by recommending the licensing of online music rights," she said. "This has resulted in a fragmentation of repertoire, which is not in the interests of commercial exploiters such as broadcasters or copyright holders and is not conducive to cultural diversity."

She added that the Commission wanted to improve this situation. "I consider this to be a step in the right direction but it doesn't go far enough," she stated, adding that she was therefore in favor of comprehensive harmonization of the conditions in which collecting societies operate.

In April the European Commission held a public hearing on the governance of the collective rights management across the EU in order to "further develop the benefits of the collective management of copyright and neighbouring rights." Various collecting societies were present.

"We should not only create uniform European conditions for music works and digital exploitation of music but should also include the harmonization of other types of content and methods of use such as audiovisual and off-line exploitation," she added. "And we should define binding general European rules for collection societies covering such elements as transparency, regulatory bodies and out-of-court arbitration mechanisms."

Dagmar Sikorski, president of the German Music publishers association in Bonn welcomed the message of the speech. "With very clear words the minister said how important the creatives are," he said. "The authors were in the focus of her thoughts and her speech."

"The Minister of Justice has made a clear commitment to strong copyright protection for artists and producers and rejected the culture of free content on the Internet," said Prof. Dieter Gorny, chairman of the Board of the German Federal Music Industry Association.