If an illegal version of a software programme is distributed on the internet via an internet provider, the owner of the copyright might want to initiate proceedings against the provider to claim damages. According to the decision of the President of the District Court the Hague in the 'Scientology Church'-case (decision of 12 March 1996) the liability of the provider depends on the extent that he is responsible for the information. This refers to the various functions an Internet provider may have: as access provider, service provider, provider of infrastructure or as the content provider (or a combination). If the Internet provider has provided the information himself he clearly is liable for that information. If he is just delivering the backbone (infrastructure) or providing access, it is not likely that he can be held liable for that information. The situation is less clear if the provider is not only providing access to the Internet, but also delivering additional services to make the information better accessible (hyperlinks, framing, bulletin board). More transparent rules and objective standards need to be established to give Internet providers more clarity with respect to their responsibility and therefore liability, on the Internet. The Dutch government is working on a bill on the criminal liability of Internet providers for the distribution of unlawful information. Providers will not be prosecuted if and to the extent that the information provider's name and address are known. The bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament in early 1997.

The issue of liability of Internet providers in The Netherlands is discussed in the recent publication 'Intellectual property rights in a digital environment' (in Dutch), Samson Bedrijfsinformatie, 1996, ISBN 90-14-05613-3 The Chapter on 'Liability and Enforcement' has been written by Annetje Ottow of Houthoff.

For further information, please contact Wolter Wefers Bettink at +31 (0)20 - 57 72 367 or Annetje Ottow at +31 (0)20 - 57 72 390. You may also send a fax to +31 (0)20 - 57 72 703 or e-mail to wbettink@houthoff.nl or aottow@houthoff.nl.