A news item caught my eye today in the FAZ about asylum seekers in one of the many camps in Germany have been getting into trouble downloading 1000s of pirated movies to wile away the time until they are either accepted or rejected. Each infringement costs at least €300 so some of the penalties have been quite high. While it is highly doubtful as to whether there was any point going to court in this case as there is very little chance of the fines being paid, it reminded me that this has been an issue for foreigners for a long time.
For those of us who have been here for a while, it is not a new story. I think everyone knows someone who has received a fine in their first year in Germany. A single download of a song or a movie will cost between €300 to €1000 and with over 500,000 fines sent out each year, and legal firms specialising in tracking down people who infringe, it just isn’t worth the risk. Don’t download illegally. Germany is one of the strictest countries for enforcement.
Streaming on the other hand is a grey zone. Now before you reach happily for your laptop to watch the latest Downton Abbey series, I need to emphasise the greyness of the zone.
Streaming is still seen as generally illegal by the courts, however there is no reliable law dealing with this particular technology ….. yet. Where it has gone to court, the decision is usually against the viewer though and there were many warnings sent out in 2013 to people streaming certain sites like Redtube.
The issue is all about the caching of data. Streaming doesn’t download a copy of the file, it caches the data from the movie short term. Some laws indicate that if the data is part of an act of temporary and transient reproduction and is an integral and essential part of the technological process of connecting to a 3rd party website, and of no monetary value, then the user is not doing anything illegal.
But let’s be honest, although this means that many people still get away with streaming, and while lawyers argue it out in the courts, it’s only a matter of time before the law is clarified and penalties become as certain as for downloaders. If you choose to stream or download there is a risk you will get a letter.
This whole debate only concerns streaming via caching. If you use another programme to watch movies online, like DivX, then this is more dangerous as it downloads a temporary copy of the movie to your hard drive and you will get caught. Sooner rather than later. Bit torrents are also another popular way to get caught.
Needless to say, if you also decide to set up a website to stream movies then you will be top of the list of targets 🙂
If the whole area of illegal downloads is too tiresome to stress about, here is a complete list and comparison of legal streaming sites in Germany from vetalio. And if you want to stream UK tv for free and watch pay as you go movies, have a look at Youk.tv and Filmon.com.
For those of you who are reading this article only after getting caught, then here is a useful set of next steps from a fellow blogger in Berlin. You don’t have to simply shut up and pay up…
Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, the advice is not necessarily 100% accurate and maybe be inaccurate as of tomorrow, and Hollywood didn’t pay me to write this blogpost! If you receive a fine or court letter, find a lawyer, don’t mail me :-). If you want to check the latest legal advice you can look here in German from e-recht24.