Should Parents Be Held Responsible For Their Child’s Online Behavior?

    November 18, 2012
    Zach Walton
    Comments are off for this post.

The Internet is a big, dangerous place where kids can get in all kinds of trouble. That’s at least the line fed to us by various groups that advocate parents take a stricter approach in monitoring their children’s Internet usage. It’s a noble sentiment, but can parents be held responsible for their child’s actions online?

It’s an interesting question, and one that the German courts have been trying to tackle since 2007. At that time, a couple’s 13-year-old son had uploaded over 1,000 songs to various file-sharing networks. The record industry demanded that the kid’s parents pay the damages, but the parents refused and took the matter to court.

Do you think parents should be held responsible for their child’s online actions? Let us know in the comments.

According to TorrentFreak, the record companies argued in court that the parents could be held responsible for their child’s action because they didn’t fulfill their parental obligations. By that, the plaintiffs meant that the parents didn’t do enough to educate and monitor their child in the first place, which led to the aforementioned uploading of songs. The District Court agreed with the record companies and ordered the couple to pay €5,380.

The parents took the case to the Court of Appeals, but they found no friends there either. The court once again ruled that the parents didn’t do enough to stop their son’s file-sharing. This time, however, the court said the cause was that the parents didn’t install some kind of monitoring or blockade software that would have prevented their son from installing file-sharing software on his computer.

After almost five years of fighting, the parents took the case to the Federal Court. The highest court in the land overturned the two previous rulings, and freed the parents from any responsibility. In the ruling, the Federal Court said that the parents had already fulfilled their basic parental obligations by teaching their son right from wrong. It was assumed that part of that would mean telling their child that piracy is wrong. What’s more is that the court also ruled that the parents were not required to monitor their son’s online activities as the plaintiffs argued.

ZDNet pointed to a report from German newspaper Die Zeit that said the verdict in Germany may very well open back up a few older cases where the parents had settled over their child’s behavior. The parents’ lawyer also said that it will “bring clarity to hundreds of his clients.”

Do you agree with the court’s ruling? Was the court right to absolve the parents of any responsibility? Let us know in the comments.

Unfortunately, there’s not really a specific precedent we can draw upon in the US, but there are similar cases. The question is whether or not a network operator can be held responsible for the people using their network. What if a friend torrents an album or a film on a friend’s wireless connection? Can they be held responsible for their friend’s action by not doing enough to prevent the piracy?

Back in September, a California judge ruled that “negligence” can not be used to sue those whose network connections are used for piracy by others. In the ruling, the judge said:

AF Holdings argues that it seeks to hold Hatfield liable for ‘negligent maintenance of his residential network,’ which it asserts allowed a third-party to commit large-scale infringement of AF Holdings’ copyrighted works. Specifically, AF Holdings alleges in the complaint that Hatfield owed it a duty to secure his Internet connection to prevent infringement of AF Holdings’ copyrighted works. Thus, the entirety of this claim involves the allegation that Hatfield failed to take certain steps – in other words, allegations of non-feasance (as opposed to misfeasance). AF Holdings has not articulated any basis for imposing on Hatfield a legal duty to prevent the infringement of AF Holdings’ copyrighted works, and the court is aware of none. Hatfield is not alleged to have any special relationship with AF Holdings that would give rise to a duty to protect AF Holdings’ copyrights, and is also not alleged to have engaged in any misfeasance by which he created a risk of peril.

So, what does all this have to do with parents and responsibility? This case and others can serve as a precedent if a case involving a parent’s responsibility were to come up. It’s all deciding where the burden of responsibility lies. The courts have overwhelmingly decided that network operators can’t be held responsible, but what about parents? Following that same logic, should schools and other institutions in charge of our children be held responsible for their online actions?

These are questions that the courts and parents will have to struggle with as the Internet becomes more pervasive in our lives. Young children are getting better at using the Internet, but the concept of having to pay for something might not be instilled into their moral compass. Sure, they know its wrong to steal a physical item, but is piracy really theft? Conflicting messages from both sides of the argument will only lead to more children pirating content with their parents being none the wiser until they start getting six-strikes warnings.

It’s important to note that this question goes beyond piracy. Would courts accept arguments that children can’t be held responsible for other actions online, like cyberbullying? The public is more than willing to hunt down the adults involved in cyberbullying, but what about the children who take to the Internet to send hateful messages to others, at home and at school? Do we hold the parents and school responsible, or should the kids take some of the blame?

Should children be held responsible for their online actions? Or should the parents or other authority figures take the blame? Let us know in the comments.

  • http://dyslexiaglasses.com John Hayes

    Children should be held responsible for their actions just as if they were doing the acts in person. I’m not saying their punishment jumps right to the punishment for adults as that is not generally the case in our system anyway. There are already special courts for those not yet adults and they have greater flexibility in handing out penalties and may use the child’s age as a factor. There wasn’t any mention of the German courts mentioned as being juvenile courts ( as the parents were being held responsible ) which IMO was the wrong approach.

    I don’t think giving children a free pass because they are children is
    going to lead to any positive results and the possibility for abuse is endless. Do we want spammers hiring children to hide behind ? Being behind a keyboard as a child doesn’t give you the right to break any laws. It is reasonable to allow knowledgeable juvenile court judges to take their age into account to determine the penalty.

  • Gerald Jennings

    Children should be held responsible for their actions and should also be made aware that their parents may be punished for their actions. Bringing responsibility back into society is long overdue, about as long overdue as a sense of common sense which also appears to be lacking

  • Jon Heil

    Ship them off to a workcamp or coal mine and let them know what real work is. Too many under 17 think they can do whatever… they need to put the smack down on them. Too many of the media or government always take their side, it’s pretty sad how they can believe anything they say… you wonder why the government is all screwed up.

  • http://ephedrinewheretobuy.com Mike Budd

    Regarding parental responsibility I see no difference between online and “offline” behavior. It’s a parents’ job to educate children to give them moral values first (right and wrong, so that they can appreciate by themselves) and then rules (laws of course but also social rules): kids should progressively know what is right and what is wrong, what is allowed and what is forbidden, then if they do the wrong thing with intent and knowledge that it’s not legal, their decision is not an error but a fault and their parents will held responsible.

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    What’s the definition of a “parent” and that of a “child”? In the U.S. [for example] a person aged 26 y.o.a. is considered a “child” for health insurance purposes but yet (in most states) that same individual at 18 y.o.a. is considered an “adult” for various acts of social responsibility.
    Perhaps this is now a matter for the U.N.: What is the definition and responsibilities of a “parent” and same with “child”.

    • Michael

      Alphabet soup!

      Your child will always be your child, regardless of their age.

      Its common knowledge that an 18-year-old [the age of majority] in the U.S. is considered an adult. He can run for and hold [most] public offices in most states. He can vote, sign contracts and be legally bound to them. He can volunteer for the military. He can be an organ donor and make his own end-of-life decisions. He can be tried as an adult in criminal court, and is eligible for jury duty.

      IDK, I don’t need, nor do I want the U.N. defining anything, let alone the definition of a child, in the United States.

      • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

        In the new U.S. what YOU need and want no longer matters … get used to it!

  • Dell Douglas

    I totally agree with you John Hayes and others that have posted here.

    Years ago, the US government sent a message out to all minors. Parents cannot discipline a child with a good spanking anymore and made children the “person in charge.” All they had to do was call the authorities (police) and off to jail goes the parent or monitoring by a government body/enforcement officer.

    Parents can sit back and preach right from wrong all day. The child can either listen or choose to ignore. If a child chooses to ignore what he/she has been taught, then the child needs to know that they aren’t going to get away with it. For every action, there’s a reaction and it isn’t going to be Mom & Dad taking the blame or getting punished for Little Susie or Billy’s actions.

    Parents can install software, setup security parameters to block pornographic sites. Does the majority of parents do this? No!!! It’s too easy for them to blame the adult sites. Why don’t they do this? Because it inconveniences Mom & Dad when they want to enjoy some adult entertainment. So it’s not their fault Little Susie or Bobby was watching porn on the computer. Parents have the tools readily available for that, they’re just too lazy to enable.

    But when it comes to illegal actions, piracy and the sort, there aren’t any programs available to block it. We as parents can preach till we’re blue in the face. If our children choose to act otherwise, they need to be held accountable for their actions, not the parents. The courts need to send a very clear message to our children and let it be known that their actions will not be tolerated and their parents aren’t going to get the blame.

  • http://danielcurzon.com Daniel Curzon-Brown

    I fought a legal battle to stop cyberbulling of teachers online — and lost. Of course kids should be responsible for what they do! They do it!
    There should be no anonymity online either, for defamation.

  • http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/protect-babies-and-mothers-too/ Concerned2

    I think the issue is a civil suit that a judgment should last 20 or 25 years for payment of any compensation required. Therefore, if a child is 12 years old and is violating another’s right or peace of mind, he is 32 years old, and should have the finances to pay his judgment off, like students today, have to pay off their student loans. In this way, adults or the parents can start telling their children they will be held financially accountable by a Judgment if they are found causing another harm by their own choices and actions.
    The only children who cannot be held accountable are those without a mind to make right or wrong choices. The parents have a duty to guide the child along loving another as they would love themself.

    • Michael

      If there parent has a duty to “guide” the child, and that child does something inappropriate or illegal, why isn’t the parent as culpable, if not more so?

  • http://Mabuzi.com kevin

    Kids should be responsible for their actions in ant reality! Otherwise it will be my kid did it.
    For real.

  • Michael

    Undeniably. If the child is under 18-years-old, the parents should be liable for the actions of their child. Lets not pass the blame onto the U.S. government — that’s just plain ignorant.

    I say the same thing when a predator “seduces” a child online. The parent should be culpable in that case too. The day we start locking up parents as we do the predator is the day parents will grow up and start taking responsibility for their child[ren].

  • evelyn crocker

    I thinparents should be held responsible for every thing their children do as parents were 40 yrs ago.

  • http://l-lists.com/ L-Lists

    Those parents shouldn’t have been held responsible because:
    1. They didn’t commit the act
    2. The child committing the act doesn’t imply negligence on their part

    Many parents don’t have the skills to put in place online safeguards. Even if they do, their child could still possibly get around it. Making rules for the child, doesn’t necessarily mean the child would obey. Forbidding the child from using computers, could potentially prevent the child from committing such an act (unless the child goes to an internet café, someone else’s house etc), but would be a form of negligence in that they would be hindering the child’s development of tech skills.

  • http://www.gadgetbytes.in shabnam

    a very interesting question in need some tym to think..over it

  • http://collaborative-work.stocklii.com/ Alexandre

    I can’t understand why parents are hold responsible for things that children had done even while they were absent? To my mind i think that responsability should be shared according to the kind of fault done! Infact if only the children have done something copied from their parents or learnt by them in that case parents can be hold responsible otherwise they can’t.

  • Lyle

    In the U.S., if a kid throws a rock through a neighbor’s widow, the parents are held responsible; if a kid is under 18 is driving daddy’s/mommy’s car and has a wreck, the parents are responsible. Why should this be any different? It’s a parent’s =responsibility= to teach their kids what’s right and what’s wrong and it’s their responsibility to make sure the kids act appropriately until they are of legal age.

  • Han Solo

    I think the people that have posted so far are missing a big part of the question. How does the MPAA or other organizations PROVE who did the pirating? Was it you, your son, or a neighbor using your wi-fi connection? They can decide to go after ANYONE and claim that they pirated a song. They then try to bully, yes, bully that person into paying a ridiculous amount of extortion money from them, threating to take them to court if they don’t pay. The MPAA simply goes to court and ‘says’ that one or more of their ‘songs’ were pirated by a certain IP address. Any ‘proof’ that they have can be easily fabricated by them in this day and age. I can go to court with the same quantity and quality of evidence that the MPAA uses and prove that anyone has illegally downloaded a song. I can setup several proxy servers, pick a random IP address, have a P2P site stream a song to that IP, and show that person had indeed downloaded an illegal song. The person’s ISP will vouch for it, and I have all the documentation I need to prosecute that person and extort money from them.

    Where is the proof of who did what?

    Case in point. A few year back, I was having problems with a new wi-fi modem. While on the phone with tech support, they had me turn off all security features. They never told me to enable the security on the modem while on the phone with them. A month later, I get a notice that I downloaded some hip-hop songs. I was 55yo and I don’t listen to hip-hop. My son doesn’t listen to that kind of music either. Neither I nor my son downloaded it. How do you prove that you didn’t do something when the other person has the ‘proof’ that the song came to this IP adress? My take is that someone outside my house used my wi-fi connection. Or, it could have been one of my sons friends when they visited us.

    We don’t always have control over what happens to our internet connection. If you steal a painting from a museum, that’s theft. But if you walk into a museum and take a picture of a painting and leave, is that stealing? If you copy a CD or DVD from a friend, did you steal from your friend? Have you caused him any damage? When you use your video recorder to record a movie or show on TV, to watch another time, is that also wrong?

    If someone steals your car and causes damage with it, are you held responsible? If someone steals you internet connection and causes ‘virtual’ damage(what damage?) with it, should you be held responsible for it? Careful what laws you wish for.

  • Ryan Miller

    If the kid lives in their house, then yes. Parents should not look at the negatives of monitoring their kids when it comes to making sure they are safe. So it takes a little time to do, but when it is all said and done, parents will know how to help their kids. I’ve used Phone sheriff and loved it.

  • girl

    What was the case with the 13 year old German boy called (______v.s.______)?

  • burpboypower

    yes, kids are responsible for their actions