Germany's entertainment industry hit a roadblock in their legal battle against P2P downloads late last week when a local court decided that there is no legal basis for criminal cases against file sharing users. The Offenburg-based court decided that prosecutors cannot order a ISP to give them the real name of a P2P user simply because that user shared a few MP3s without the permission of rights holders, heise.de reports.

Germany has been on the forefront of P2P lawsuits. The German music industry sued more than 20.000 file sharing users by the end of 2006 and pledged to sue an additional 1000 users per month this year.

These lawsuits are already a little more complicated than in the US: Rights holders cannot bring civil cases against unknown defendants in Germany, which is why they initiate criminal cases against each user suspected of copyright infringement first. Prosecutors reveal the identity of the users during these criminal cases, which the industry then uses to slap them with an additional civil suit.

Prosecutors have been increasingly unwilling to do the dirty work for the music industry though. A local State Attorney General revealed late last year that these lawsuits cost taxpayers millions of dollars, and local authorities have started to drop lawsuits by the dozen in order to free capacity for more serious cases.

The Oldenburg ruling marks the first time a court echoes these sentiments, undermining the arguments of the music industry on multiple fronts. The court's decision questioned the actual damages of P2P downloads to record labels, arguing that people would download songs for free that they would probably never buy.

It also argued that the industry cannot prove intent in light of P2P software that tricks or forces people into redistributing their downloads. Finally, it raised questions about the double lawsuit strategy of the industry, stating that this might be a ploy to get access to data that it wasn't supposed to get in the first place.

The ruling doesn't automatically amount to precedence in other P2P lawsuits, but heise.de is reporting that other German courts might soon issue similar rulings, which in turn could bring the lawsuit campaign of the German music industry to a standstill.

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