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...could have ceased to be the administrative contact for that domain whenever he wanted, and that by maintaining the admin-c position he took responsibility for the content of the website.
In Germany, many ISP's handle not only the connectivity but also domain issues for their clients. Typically they are listed both as Admin-C and Admin-T in the domain records. In my company, I was listed as Admin-C for all the domains. When this case went to court for the first time, I had my CEO entered as Admin-C for all our domains.
The case can now go one final level higher to the Federal Supreme Court. The District Court actually approves if the defendant wants to go there, since they say it's a matter of fundamental interest for a whole industry.
Full coverage (German): [heise.de...]
A German company discovered abusive disinformation about their products on a competitors website. The sued their competitor, but they also sued the Admin-C of the offending domain. The case went through two instances and was now decided against the Admin-C,...
Do the German courts think the responsible person is the one whose name and address is listed as the contact ("CEO, Example GmbH, 123 Any Street"), or the person behind the email address that is listed for that contact ("firstname.lastname@example.org")?
There is a big difference.
Many small ISPs list their customer as the contact (i.e. the name and address listed as the 'owner' of the domain is actually the owner) but the email address for this contact is listed as <support>@isp.com
I have dealt with a couple of nasty domain transfers, and in each case it was pointed out to me that the email address is authoritative if you get in to an argument regarding a domain transfer, not the physical name and address.
We requested to authorise our domain transfer by having a paper letter sent snail-mail to the owner contact name & address but our new ISP said ICANN rules wouldn't allow this, it had to be done through our admin email address, which was email@example.com - and the old ISP kept refusing the transfer request.
In our case, the Admin-C would have had the possibility do disconnect the domain, thus taking the violating content offline. Alternatively he could have ceded his Admin-C priviledges. The court decided that by doing neither of those, even after being informed of the violations, he became liable by omission.
It will be up to the supreme court to figure out whether the intended role of the Admin-C makes any difference. As far as the registrars are concerned, the Admin-C is there to manage certain aspects of a domain name. But since this gives him the factual power to disconnect a domain, the legal implications go quite a bit beyond that.