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Germans ponder their own CDA

Net access providers in Germany won't be responsible for "indecent" Net content--unless they know it's there.

As federal judges ponder the future of the Communications Decency Act in the United States, Germany is gearing up to set its own legislation for regulating questionable material on the Net.

The German bill states that online services and Internet service providers will not be liable for illegal content posted online, including pornography and neo-Nazi literature, unless they are aware of the material and take no action, according to Justice Minister Edzard Schmidt-Jotzig. If they do have knowledge of such material, the services would have to follow European commission guidelines to determine if it must be removed.

Germany's move comes at a time when the ACLU is bringing a federal lawsuit intended to overturn the recently enacted CDA. Under the U.S. law, individuals, online services, or Net access providers that knowingly or unknowingly post indecent material on the Internet could receive up to two years in jail and $250,000 in fines.

Even after the judges now hearing arguments in a Philadelphia courtroom decide how the law will be applied in the United States, legal experts will have to determine how to govern content internationally and where and how to apply differing legislation such as the CDA and the German bill, which is expected to become law this summer.

The German government has been relatively aggressive compared to its European neighbors about regulating Internet and online content. In December, at the request of German authorities, CompuServe temporarily suspended about 200 newsgroups allegedly containing sexual content. Because the online service couldn't technically block access to the newsgroups only within German borders, the company was forced to ban access to the groups worldwide. CompuServe restored access to all but five groups in February.

Related stories:
Germans, CS dispute details of ban
CompuServe faces new German inquiries
CompuServe action has worldwide effect