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German court convicts ex-online manager in child porn case

Internet graphic

But suspended 2-year sentence means no jail time

May 28, 1998
Web posted at: 10:56 a.m. EDT (1456 GMT)

MUNICH, Germany (CNN) -- A former head of the German division of the CompuServe online service was given a two-year suspended sentence after being convicted on Thursday of allowing customers to swap child pornography on the Internet.

Even prosecutors had conceded that Felix Somm was not himself guilty of spreading smut and should be let off.

But in his verdict, Bavarian judge Wilhelm Hubbert said Somm had been an accomplice for messages circulated by CompuServe's customers. "The accused is not a victim. He abused the medium," the judge said.

The verdict was the first time in Germany an online company manager had been held responsible for images available through the firm's gateway to the Internet.

Somm, 34, was sentenced in connection with the publication of pornographic material involving children, animals and violence in 1995 and 1996.

Prosecutors said CompuServe had the technical means to screen out such material, but defense lawyers denied that the firm was capable of this in Germany.

Somm, who left CompuServe last year to set up his own firm and now lives in his native Switzerland, was not immediately available for comment.

Under a new federal law passed after Somm was charged, access providers are not generally held liable for material on the Internet. They are, however, required to take reasonable measures to block access to banned material.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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