Help me: i was caught illegally downloading in Germany

We all have our reasons to turn to illegal download in Germany. For some it’s about binge-watching the latest HBO hit series, for others it’s about getting their hands first on the latest Coldplay album. Some even want to get their hands on a rare 1991 version of the Star-Wars trilogy. Whatever it is, you might have gotten away with it in your home country. However, illegally downloading copyrighted content in Germany is severely  condemned by law and is frequently enforced by private law firms who send cease and desist letters.

If you are reading those lines, you are probably holding an Abmahnung letter from a German lawyer asking you to pay a hefty fine because you were caught in the act. I will ask you not to panic and will reply to the many questions you have right now.

Warning letter illegal file sharing germany

Here is everything you want to know on how to respond to a warning letter for illegally downloading copyrighted content in Germany.

Illegal download of copyrighted material in Germany, the basic stuff

What am really guilty of ?

German laws concerning file-sharing are pretty strict and clearly condemn any kind of file sharing activity related to copyrighted content. While both download and upload are condemned by law, it’s really in reality the uploading part of the process that will be rewarded with a warning letter. Using services like torrent clients makes you automatically share the file you are downloading. This is why torrent and other P2P clients users receive a lot of letters from German lawyers.

Since April 2017, users of illegal streaming services (also broadcasting of live events) can also get in trouble because of a decision from the European Court of Justice. It established (here) that users of such services are indeed acting unlawfully. However, unlike P2P, it’s very difficult to identify users of such platforms as IP adresses are often not stored by these platforms in the long-term, making the enforcement unlikely. Only premium users can easily identified.

On the document, you might see a reference to the set of laws dealing with copyright infringement in Germany; Urheberrechtsgesetz” or “UrhG”. The article making it illegal is § 19a UrhG.

Who is responsible and who should pay?

German courts have stated that the owner of the internet access is in theory responsible for any wrong-doings happening on that network. They are responsible for securing it so other people don’t use it to download copyrighted content in Germany. This might bring up tensions if you are living in a WG and it’s not your name on the internet provider’s contract. In that case, the owner can “discharge” the fault onto the real culprit to be cleared of all charges if necessary.

How did they could identify me and find my address?

Those German law firms sending warning letters usually hire specialized third-party services that are scanning P2P nodes and clients, recording IP adresses that are currently downloading illegally in Germany. They are then authorized by law to ask your internet provider to disclose any information linked to that IP adress. This is how they obtained your private details.

Again, this is why law enforcement is really much more difficult to apply for illegal streaming services users. IP adresses are not stored on servers on the long-run and if the police should request a list, it’s only after a considerable amount of time. Beware however premium users; if you are paying a fee on one of those platforms, your IP will definitely be stored on the server, thereby increasing the risks of getting caught.

If you want to protect your traffic and use all services privately, you can get a VPN that will hide everything from anyone else. You can use NordVPN for example, which often considered one of the bests out there, especially since streaming works well with it and you connect up to 6 devices with one account (switch to English in the footer if needed).

Do they really have the right to fine me so much? Can it really go to court?

There is no clear set of rules that puts a figure on the fine you have received. It might be 900€ per illegally downloaded song in Germany or 2000€ for downloading a movie in Germany. The figure is entirely up to them. We will see later how it is possible to bargain it down a little. Although they do threaten to take this to court, it’s relatively quite rare it happens. It mostly an argument to scare you into paying fast and without asking any questions.

However, make sure to see the difference between the different fees mentioned in this document. There are fees for sending you this Abmahnung, the contract penalty & the fine mentioned as repair for their clients. Also note that a law passed in 2013 should limit Abmahnung and legal claim fees to 150€ & 450€ respectively.

Offense repairs on streaming cases are much lower, making it less profitable for law firms to pursue; legal claim fees remain the same as for P2P cases but the fine per film can only be 5 to 10€.

Is this a real German law firm and not a scam? Do they really work with the copyright holders?

Now this is a little tricky because it is true that some scam letters (e.g from non-existing “Kroner & Kollegen” law firm) have been sent around and they are not entitled to represent the copyright holder. However, most often than not, the warning letter for illegally downloading copyrighted content is a real one coming from a real law firm who represents company like Viacom, Sony, 20th Century Fox, etc.

Here are some law firms sending cease and desist letters in Germany (hat-tip to Raychenon.com):
Auffenberg, Petzhold, Witte; Baumgarten & Brandt; Bindhart , Fiedler, Zerbe; CSR; Daniel Sebastian; Denecke Haxthausen & Partner; Fareds; Johannes Rübenach; Kornmeier & Patner; Lihl; Lutz Schroeder; Marcus Meier; Marko Schiek; Negele; Nümann und Lang; Paulus; Philipp Marquort; Rainer Munderloh; Rasch; Reichelt, Klute, Aßmann; Sasse und Patner; Schalast & Patner; Scheuermann,Westerhoff, Strittmatter; Schutt, Waetke; SKW Schwarz; U+C; Vahrenwald & Kretschmer; Waldorf Frommer; WeSaveYourCopyrights; Winterstein; Zimmermann & Decker.

Rule number 1: Don’t panic and don’t send anything back

What is this “Unterlassungserklärung” document and what should i do with it?

Together with the warning letter establishing your identity and the content, there is another document called “Unterlassungserklärung”. This is the German equivalent to a cease and desist letter that the law firm wants you to sign to prove that you recognize yourself to be guilty of the accusations. Do not sign this document and do not send it back! By doing so, you would give more legal ground against you and would have to pay.

Cease and desist letter file sharing germany

Cease and desist letter for Downloading Deadpool (source: Quora.com)

Now tell me what can i do about this warning letter

There are different courses of action you can take at this point and i guess it depends on how bold you are and how good you are dealing with a possibly nerve-racking situation.

1- Pay-up right away

Let’s be honest now: those letters are an attempt at scaring you off and pressuring you into paying the full amount. This is even more impressive for a foreigner that doesn’t understand German completely. You shouldn’t panic and pay-up without asking any questions as there is room for negotiation. After all, you have to remember that it is not the government sending you those letters; the fine hasn’t been set by law.

2- Do nothing

While curling yourself in a ball and hoping that it will go away might not seem like the mature and adult thing to do, this reaction might still have a few arguments for it. Reacting this way is basically counting on the weaknesses of the system; those German law firms are very busy you see. They send hundred of thousands of warning letters a year to the average Joe for illegally downloading movies in Germany. They know very well that they won’t be able to handle each individual case manually so they might no simply follow-up, should you not reply to their first Abmahnung.

Then again, there is also a good chance that you might be part of the chosen ones for whom it doesn’t go away. If they do follow-up, additional legal fees might occur and it can be enforced. This is a risk you take if you pick this option.

Doing nothing is a viable option but it can back-fire at you

3- Seek legal counselling

They come at you with legal weaponry? It’s then maybe time to gear up with some of your own and get in touch with a lawyer. Judging from the cases i have heard around me and in forums around the internetz, this seems to be a popular option. It’s a good compromise between costs, stress & time spent dealing with a fine for illegal file sharing in Germany. Sure, it’s not cheap but you might in turn save hundreds of euros for negotiating a cheaper fine or even not paying it all.

What a lawyer will do is to send a modified cease and desist letter in your behalf that basically says that you are sorry for what happened but you still don’t recognize that you are guilty and that you won’t do that in the future.

Fees for doing so with German lawyers specialized in copyright infringement cases can vary. It’s really worth it in a lot of cases. If you don’t know where to start your search, Jurato is a good option. It’s a platform that connects you with recognized specialists in their fields. Payment is secured and all communication made in English.

I wish you good luck in fighting against the odds. I hope this post helped you understand your situation.

 

Also, if you want to use your internet access as you want, don’t forget you can fully hide your traffic with a good VPN like NordVPN. Considered one of the bests on the market, safe and easy to use, it works well for this kind of use too.

Edit 1: This question was asked many times in the comments:

“I used torrents or streamed this piece of content [insert movie or music here], and i didn’t know about the rules in Germany! What are the chances to be caught and receive a letter?”

Answer: There are no rules defining the probability that you could get caught, and also no way to tell the delay with which you can receive this letter. Only time can tell.

Edit 2: This question was asked many times as well:

“I used another service download content (Gdrive, WeTransfer, some random platform, etc), what are the risks?”

Answer: This post is about torrenting and streaming. I cannot answer about any other means or technologies.

Disclaimer: this post is purely for informative purpose about what to do when caught illegal file sharing in Germany. It doesn’t replace the counselling for a professional attorney. Please make sure you fully understand your situation before taking any action. Better safe than sorry <3 <3 <3.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Also a big thank you to Oliver from the Frankfurt Expat blog, whose post on the legality of streaming helped me fine tune some details of this article.
If you are living near or around Frankfurt, check his blog out, it’s a good read to discover the city.

493 Comments

  • Reply David 04/02/2020 at 19:20

    Hi. I just received the paperwork from WF for a movie I downloaded. Reading your article, you advise not signing the Unterlassungserklärung and sending that back, but you also provide three options to deal with it. If one chooses to lay the fine but not sign the Unterlassungserklärung, is that possible?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2020 at 09:29

      Hey David. It’s certainly possible but i cannot advise you on the consequences of proceeding that way. Better ask a lawyer that.

  • Reply Nisha Nair 04/02/2020 at 09:29

    What about Youtube Audio Library? They are royalty free music. I am a content creator and i need some audios for my videos.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/02/2020 at 09:25

      Hey Nisha, make sure to check the creative commons license before you use them.

  • Reply Mein Herz Brennt 01/02/2020 at 00:42

    Use VPN so your “problems” will go away it is only $6 per month. What to look for: 1. secure communications protocols 2. Use company that is a outside of “The Fourteen Eyes” 3. Choose a service that specifically states that they do not keep logs 4. Fix your DNS Leak, WebRTC Leak, and GEO location 5. Get more familiar with VPN

  • Reply Guy 28/01/2020 at 17:22

    Hi,

    I have gotten one of these famous bills, but I dont live in the country anymore. So right now is my former roomie very concerned.
    I have used the ignore method since 2018. He already got his lawyer on it.
    I live in Denmark, so the cooperation between the two states are great. But how far is the companies going, do you have an idea?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 29/01/2020 at 15:07

      Hey Guy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  • Reply Maybe 21/01/2020 at 19:13

    Hi, after reading all these questionare I come to the conclusion that only foreigners get caught or single out. What’s wrong here? I would consider this type of demand as high way robbery. If it’s illegal why don’t they put a warning sign or inform user that if they continue they will be fined. Other country like France if you get caught they first send you a warning letter not to do it again. Why don’t the government put to this type of ripoff. By the way, don’t think lawyers can help you. Sometimes they work together with each other to rip you off.

  • Reply Magan 18/01/2020 at 22:59

    Hello, what is your experience with plex? If someone else is uploading to the server in the States and I am streaming without downloading? If I use a VPN then I should be okay to use it?

  • Reply Lala 09/01/2020 at 00:14

    This is helpful thank you very much!
    In my case i just recieved a fine from IPPC LAW but the letter is addressed to my ex flatmate(The internet contract is brought on his name and will likely expire after a few months )who have moved to China permanently and I am not in contact with him.So shall I let them know about emigration it just ignore the letters?

  • Reply Lily 07/01/2020 at 21:58

    Hello, Bastien.

    If I downloaded some movie/songs/books via torrent in one country, save it on my laptop, and watch it offline in Germany, can I get caught? If I am not using torrents in Germany. And is it legal to download VPN in Germany?
    Thank you!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/01/2020 at 17:12

      Hey Lily, i cannot give you techical/legal advice on particular situations. If you haven’t shared any files under a German IP, then you should be fine. To use a VPN in Germany is perfectly legal.

  • Reply Sebastian 30/12/2019 at 23:10

    Hi,

    i have pretty simple situation and i cant find answer for my situation. I forgot to delete torrent program after coming to Germany, i opened my laptop and went away on 3 min. When i got back, the program was asking me for terms to accept (i didnt accept it) and i think in the background he was already making some sending/receiving. No file was completed or downloaded, I closed the program immediately and deleted him. Is this reason to get huge fine/Abmahnung?
    Thank you in advanced.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 03/01/2020 at 10:35

      Hey Sebastian. As mentioned in the post and in the comments. The act of sharing is illegal, it doesn’t matter if the file was successfully downloaded or not.

  • Reply Jay Jay Johnas 03/11/2019 at 14:18

    Hi i have this problem now about I watch a movie 3 years ago from a web site what popped up automatically from a other site… and I get those letters and I ignore them on beginning I should pay for even not 10 minutes on this website over 800€ and after I get more letters and always come up the price to pay…
    I don’t respond and become i silence till I get jello letter that I should pay 1356,34€ !!!
    What I should do now because I don’t believe I should pay this amount of money from 10 minutes on site what popped up automatically on my laptop!!!

    • Reply Jimmy 15/01/2020 at 15:10

      Like to give you a tip. If you have rec’d a yellow letter that means very likely they will bring you to court. If you contact a lawyer they are happy to help you because they want business and you are going to pay them. Don’t think they are doing you a favor.
      My advise to you is you contact them (the law firm that sent you the letters) personally and tell them you don’t earn so much and request them to lower their price. They will probably lower to €450 plus the warning yellow letter €128 and you can request a monthly payment of €30. They will probably ask you to show them your salary. This way you will save the fee for contacting a lawyer costs of another €187 for not doing anything except asking them to lower fine which you can do it yourself. All these lawyers are only care for their incomes and NOT for you. There are like Vultures zooming up in the air and looking for a Prey. There are no solutions to deal with such case and if you check the internet you will find lawyers who are so call specialized in such field and tell you to call them which usually offer free first call and if you do that’s when they get new client. Their advice is not to contact law firm yourself but let them do it. I don’t know if that can actually help. That’s the way they do their business
      but if you can call and say you are willing to pay for a reduced amount that is even better instead of waiting for letters every 2 months receiving terrorizing letters and that will last 10 years long. The so call verjährt after 3 years is bulls…h. Don’t think they will let you get away scot free. This is Germany. Other country like France, they warn you first and if you do it again then they will find you. Take this advice from someone who has been ripped off by them lawyers!

  • Reply Lukas 29/10/2019 at 19:27

    Hi. I had some torrent files on my laptop before coming to Germany. Accidentally, I opened Utorrent for a few seconds. Now, I know that it is impossible to know if the Abmahnung will eventually come, but my doubt is that I live in a university dorm. Would the letter come to my landlord or to me?
    The internet is provided by the dorm, so I don’t know if they have a way to identify from which room the upload came. I am worried the landlord might be the one that receives the letter and pays for it and only discovers who uploaded later when trying to get his money back. I fear that because I’m only staying for 5 months, so if I receive the letter myself, I will just ignore it, since I don’t think they will try to follow up if I’m not in Germany anymore, but if the landlord pays without warning me about what I want to do, I might have to pay him the full amount back. Do you have any idea how it goes when it comes do uni dorms?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/11/2019 at 09:16

      Hey Lukas. Sorry no, i can’t help you about your particular case.

  • Reply Priscila 24/10/2019 at 00:23

    Hi! Is it legal to do a download of an episode or a movie on Netflix app in Germany? Because the app give us the possibility to do this and the file stills only in the app.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/10/2019 at 08:57

      Hey Priscila. Yes it is.

      • Reply Paulius 12/01/2020 at 01:59

        U can download if that app is official

  • Reply Anna Fox 15/10/2019 at 15:36

    This is so helpful thank you!! We just recieved a hefty fine from WF. We didnt actually watch the film as it was out of sync, stopped it after a minute or so…. any advise on what we should do in this case?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 21/10/2019 at 22:11

      Hey Anna. Whether or not you consumed the media has no bearing on the case unfortunately.

    • Reply Mahdi 27/11/2019 at 17:56

      Hi,
      How long does it take to receive the warning?
      I mean from watching movie to receiving warning letter?

  • Reply Felix MacConluain 23/09/2019 at 15:57

    We received an Abmahnung some years ago and since then, having hired a lawyer to fight the case, Waldorf Frommer tried to take the case to court earlier this year (a “yellow letter”) which we were advised through our lawyer to refuse. We have now received a ‘tax bill’ from WF for the case! Is this a normal part of the intimidating tactics of WF, or something new in your experience?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/09/2019 at 16:33

      Hey Felix. They are using countless ways to try to impress guys like you. I don’t know about this one in particular. I would trust your lawyer’s advice.

    • Reply Jimmy 15/01/2020 at 15:30

      Hi Filix,
      How much is the tax bill? Is it higher than the fine?
      I would actually consider myself if I would want to pay them now or wait. Your lawyer would probably ask you to wait until your fine grow larger. Don’t forget your lawyer fee is based on the amount of fine which is 0.5% that means the larger the fine the more money they make. Lawyers here
      are like all other business make money regardless how nice or sympathetic they are. Go with your gut feeling. You will have to pay the fine. Welcome to free Deutschland!

  • Reply hadi 16/09/2019 at 17:57

    Hello,
    I have a question concerning this, If i made a friend of mine who is living outside Germany download a copyrighted file through a torrent, and then he uploaded this file to cloud site, for example Dropbox. Am i safe if i downloaded this file from dropbox ?
    Thanks

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 17/09/2019 at 11:17

      Hey Hadi. This is not my expertise.

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