A while back, I wrote a post warning students about the dangers of torrenting copywrited material in Germany. The restrictions in Germany have long been among the strictest in Europe, leading many cafes and restaurants across the country to refuse to install WiFi, meaning that Germans (and their guests) have long struggled to find a hotspot.
This is set to change, thanks to a new law backed by the German government. In 2010, a court held that the holder of a WiFi contract was legally liable for whatever was downloaded over their connection. This meant that any café in the country was potentially on the hook for their patrons’ online activities, which in Germany can often be a significant financial hit.
As has been pointed out to me, individuals can use a private VPN to protect their online activities, but this usually isn’t an option for companies who want to offer wireless internet to their customers. This law, therefore, is the right move, as it will allow companies to transfer liability to their customers by having them agree to not act illegally.
Now that companies won’t have to worry about prosecution or fines, there’s every reason to expect WiFi to expand across the country much like it has across the rest of Europe. In Cologne, I’ve already started to see this effect, with “WiFi” stickers proliferating in cafes around town. In fact, I'm writing this currently in a coffee shop that recently started offering unlimited free WiFi to its customers. It may be 5 years late, but it’s great to see this sensible response to what was a really stupid ruling.