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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 16:41 GMT


World: Europe

Ex-CompuServe boss acquitted

Compuserve was "not able to filter all material"

A court in Germany has overturned the 1998 conviction of the former head of CompuServe in Germany for failing to block access to child pornography sites on the internet.

In a case that drew worldwide criticism, Felix Somm was convicted in May 1998 by the Munich Administrative Court of complicity in 13 cases of distributing illegal pornography by not blocking CompuServe customer access to the sites.

A state court in Munich reversed the conviction on appeal after both the defence and the prosecution argued that the original court's verdict was flawed.


[ image: Felix Somm:
Felix Somm: "not fully responsible"
Mr Somm had been given a two-year suspended sentence and fined 100,000 marks ($52,670).

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

Defence attorney Ulrich Sieber said Mr Somm, who was head of CompuServe's German subsidiary, had no technical means of blocking such sites, but still managed to get the US parent company to do so several times.

In opening arguments at the appeal hearing on Wednesday he said Mr Somm was "a dedicated opponent of pornography on the internet".

He added that it was ridiculous to hold Somm responsible for internet content.

"You could just as well convict the chairman of Deutsche Telekom," which provides the telecommunications access, he said.

The case began when Bavarian prosecutors raided CompuServe offices in December 1995.

By the end of the trial on May 28, 1998, even they agreed with the defence that there was no technology available at the time that would have enabled CompuServe to block internet content.

But the judge in the case, Wilhelm Hubbert, disagreed and said he wanted the verdict to deter other internet-access providers from doing the same.

When Bavarian prosecutors launched their investigation, CompuServe, based in Columbus, Ohio, blocked access to 200 electronic message boards for all of its then four million users worldwide, setting off an international debate over censorship on the internet.



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