Citing "the insecure legal situation" in the German Internet market, US service provider PSINet is moving part of its operations out of Germany.
PSINet's move is partly in reaction to the recent conviction of ex-CompuServe Deutschland GmbH manager Felix Somm. In May, Somm was found guilty of disseminating child pornography over the Internet in 1995 and 1996, before CompuServe moved to block access to controversial Internet news groups.
The Virginia-based company said it will move its servers which store customers' Web content to another European country over the next three months, according to a statement released this week by the company's German subsidiary, PSINet GmbH.
Helmut Blank, the chairman of PSINet GmbH, could not be reached today for further comment. A spokeswoman declined to say how many servers were involved and where they would be moved.
"I can understand why some companies are getting cold feet," said Harald Summa, a managing director with Germany's electronic commerce forum, a group which promotes the interests of Germany's online industry. "This shows that foreign companies are taking these legal decisions quite seriously," Summa added.
PSINet's statement cited the uncertain legal climate as well as the need to protect its own managers and those of its customers from prosecution as the reason for the move.
PSINet is concerned about Somm's conviction, as well as a less-publicised case recently in which a Munich district court held an operator of a travel agency's Web site responsible for false advertising on the site, according to the statement.
Expecting service providers to police the more than 100 million Web pages under their control is "a decision one would expect in countries like China or Singapore, rather than in Germany," said PSINet's chairman and chief executive officer William Schrader, in the statement.
PSINet is convinced, as is the majority of the German online community, that Germany's laws absolve service providers of responsibility for material transmitted online, the statement said.
The company also expressed concern about the youth protection network, an effort by regional youth authorities in Germany to self-police the Internet for materials related to racism, violence or pornography. After using its own Web crawler to search the Internet for relevant materials, the youth network contacts Web page operators and asks them to withdraw them, according to information on the organisation's Web site.
"It is not clear whether there is a legal basis for the youth protection network's activities," ECO's Summa said.
PSINet will continue to invest heavily in improving its infrastructure and transmission capacity in Germany, the statement said. PSINet is the fifth largest Internet service provider in Germany, out of 300 providers, according to its own figures.
PSINet can be reached on the World Wide Web at http://www.psi.net/.