Regular readers of this blog may remember some of my chronicles, under the name “Protecting Germans”, of the efforts of our German legal team to deal with “subscription trap” websites, which are particularly a problem in that country. Such sites try and trap you into signing up for a subscription to get software which is available for free download elsewhere. Firefox is regularly abused as one of the popular software programs whose ‘availability’ prompts users to register on such websites.
Now, I am pleased to be able to tell you that a couple of months ago, in the Hamburg criminal court, sentence was passed on 7 operators of such fraudulent download websites, handing down sentences of 3 years and 9 months for the ringleader, and shorter sentences and fines for the other accused. This is the first ever criminal trial against the operators of subscription trap sites, and the judgment has been eagerly awaited by the public prosecutors in other German cities, who are building cases against other people involved in such schemes.
It is important to note that the court partly founded its judgement on the infringement of Mozilla’s trademarks. The main focus of the proceedings from the outset was on criminal fraud (vis-à-vis the consumers) and the trademark infringement claims were only given their due attention and relevance as a result of our supportive work. (Mozilla participated in the proceedings as one of the harmed rights-owners.)
Furthermore, the main proof which persuaded the court of the defendants’ intention to infringe Mozilla’s trademarks was their knowledge of the civil injunctions we had obtained as early as 2007 and 2009 against two of their websites.
We therefore feel that our support and participation in the proceedings was truly significant and worthwhile. The German press has been applauding the decision, which will hopefully set a precedent for other criminal proceedings against online fraudsters.
I personally feel that this is a vindication of our policy of maintaining and defending the Mozilla trademarks, and especially the Firefox trademark.
You can also read the official Mozilla blog post about this.