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Facebook fined 100,000 euros in German intellectual property dispute

Mon 29 Feb 2016

A regional court in Berlin found that Facebook had not changed their terms and conditions statement to adequately address intellectual property concerns. The court fined Facebook 100,000 euros ($109,000) today, just one week after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to Berlin, where he was awarded the first ever Axel Springer Award for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Four years ago, in response to a complaint filed by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZBV), a German court found that Facebook’s terms and conditions did not address the circumstances in which users intellectual property could be used by Facebook or even licensed to third parties. The regional court in Berlin ruled today that while Facebook did change the wording of the statement on intellectual property in their terms and conditions, the message remained the same.

A spokesperson for Facebook, however, said that the problem was with the timing rather than the message. “We complied with the order to clarify a single provision in our terms concerning an IP license a while ago. The court felt we did not update our terms quickly enough and has issued a fine, which we will pay.” However, the court’s ruling stated that the problem was not with the speed by which the clause was updated, but with the fact that the key message was never changed.

Klaus Mueller, the head of the VZBV, said, “Facebook is persistently trying to evade consumer laws in Germany and Europe. Companies must implement judicial decisions and can’t simply sit them out.”

This is just one in a string of legal problems for Facebook in Germany and throughout Europe. They have been under fire for their use of facial recognition technology, which prompts users to ‘tag’ people in their photos. In 2012, the District Court of Berlin ruled that Facebook violated user rights with its FriendFinder function, a decision which was upheld in a lower court in 2014, and again on January 15 of this year. In France, Facebook will be required to defend their decision to suspend the account of a teacher who posted a famous nude painting. And later this year the Austrian Supreme Court will hear whether a privacy lawsuit initiated by Viennese lawyer Max Schrems in 2014 may be treated as a class action suit.

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