AP wire story
Wednesday, April 16, 1997

German prosecutors file pornography charges against CompuServe

MUNICH, Germany (AP) -- More than a year after raiding the German offices of CompuServe Inc., Bavarian prosecutors charged the online service's German chief on Wednesday with being an accessory to the dissemination of pornography.

In papers filed in state court in Munich, prosecutors charged that Felix Somm, as the U.S.-based company's German representative, "knowingly" allowed pornographic images, including child pornography, to reach customers from the Internet in 1995 and 1996.

Prosecutors said the online service could have blocked the images through technical or organizational means.

A CompuServe spokeswoman in Munich said a statement was being prepared late Wednesday. In a statement released at its Colombus, Ohio, headquaters Wednesday afternoon, CompuServe said the accusation against Somm "is entirely groundless".

German prosecutors searched CompuServe offices in December 1995 as part of an investigation into online pornography. CompuServe responded by blocking access to some 200 electronic message boards known as newsgroups for all of its 4 million users worldwide, setting off an international debate over censorship on the Internet.

CompuServe said it lacked the technical ability to block out just the German users.

In February 1996, the firm reinstated access to all but five of the newsgroups and introduced software that would allow its customers to block out online pornography.

But Bavarian officials criticized that action as an attempt to shift responsibility and continued their criminal investigation.

The indictment charges that CompuServe intentionally and negligently violated German child-protection laws. Prosecutors said CompuServe could have installed a computer to block individual newsgroups.

The indictment also charges that CompuServe distributed computer games that are restricted in Germany because of their excessive violence, as well as a game featuring swastikas and photos of Adolf Hitler. Nazi symbols are banned in Germany.

Conviction for distribution of child pornography carries a sentence of up to a year in prison in Germany.

Copyright © 1997 by Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.