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 anywhere between 50€ to 250€. It’s really worth it in a lot of cases. Remember that the first initial phone call or meeting is always for free by law, so it never hurts just to ask.

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.

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.

152 Comments

  • Reply Don 19/10/2017 at 01:11

    Hello
    This might sound stupid but I’m really working myself over it right now. I was watching something on a stream website and all of a sudden an add pops up. I clicked to remove it and in a matter of a second I got redirected into another tab and it started downloading some random Adobe Software setup on it’s own. I canceled it right away but I really wanna know if something can happen because of this?
    Thanks in advange

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2017 at 19:05

      Hi Don. This page is the wrong place to ask. What happened has nothing to do with it.

  • Reply Tory 18/10/2017 at 16:31

    Hi Bastien,

    Thanks for writing this super informative article! A friend of mine went to Berlin half a year ago and stayed at an airbnb place. A month later, he received a message from the host that he got fined for downloading a TV show at the time my mate stayed at his place.. He is sure he didn’t download anything. But what if my mate, by accident, did download the show. Can this be proven? I know IP is linked to adres. But is it possible for the law firms to receive more detailed information about who downloaded something on a network?

    Thanks in advance mate!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/10/2017 at 19:03

      Hi Tory. This is only just opinion but i think yes, more details can be passed on, especially the time and date it happened, which can fit with the time your friend stayed there.

  • Reply Sarah 16/10/2017 at 00:02

    Hello.
    I’ve heard before from my German teacher that downloadin is illegal in Germany so I’m so carefull about it! But my question is about the photos on the internet. For example can I save (download) a photo from google, Tumblr or Pinterest?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 16/10/2017 at 22:13

      Hi Sarah, any wrongful use of copyrighted material is by nature illegal. The real question is rather how can you get caught?

  • Reply Toma 15/10/2017 at 15:03

    Hi Bastien. I was living in a country where you can download torrents with not worry. I came last week to Germany and when i connected to the internet muy qtorrent automaticly pops up. I turn it off and removed it from my computer. It was like 30 seconds to minute time that qtorrent was on, i wasnt downloading anything, but i think one file was there for seeding. Im not sure if there was a connection with torrent or i was turn it off on time. Can you tell me please if i can geth cought for that, becouse im very worried. Thank you for your answer

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/10/2017 at 16:55

      Hi Toma. Like for for all the others asking here; there is no way for me to tell that in advance. You just have to wait and see.

  • Reply Nina X 14/10/2017 at 19:33

    Hi. Thanks for your article. I’m new to Germany and I downloaded an episode after 3 days of it coming out. They sent me a letter just like the one like the Deadpool movie but they’re suing me for 620€ for just one episode and the lawyer company is Waldorf Frommer. Is there anyway possible that I don’t have to pay anything or little? Thanks again.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/10/2017 at 16:52

      Hi Nina. I know you are worried and you want advice but all your answers are in the post.

  • Reply Ellen 09/10/2017 at 07:50

    Hi Bastien,

    Thank you for your very informative article. I recently downloaded a PDF of a copyrighted German text book from a site fast24.ir. Now I’m pretty scared about being prosecured. Do you think this is something I should be worried about however, as I don’t think it that I actually shared the book so my info wouldn’t be stored the same way tormenting would? If I were to be prosecuted, how much would I be fined do you know?

    • Reply Ellen 09/10/2017 at 07:54

      Also, I did this using the cellular data on my mobile phone- which is still registered in my home country. Do you think that makes a difference?
      Again, thank you!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/10/2017 at 10:51

      Hi Ellen. Direct download cannot be tracked the same way as torrents nodes, it’s just an opinion, but there is very little to be scared about.

  • Reply Emma 07/10/2017 at 17:10

    But what about pictures? Is it also illegal to save a picture from tumblr or pinterest?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 08/10/2017 at 10:56

      Hi Emma, in general yes, it is illegal to use pictures without the agreement of its owner; but who is there to track that?

  • Reply DSp 03/10/2017 at 18:41

    Has anyone really used VPNs to download files from Torrent?

  • Reply Ruben 03/10/2017 at 17:41

    I’ve got some old torrent trackers left on my PC, do you think I can load them in uTorrent or will I then be screwed aswell?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 04/10/2017 at 16:33

      Hi Ruben, don’t load them in, i think you are still at risk.

  • Reply Santiago Bogacz Morales 30/09/2017 at 13:40

    I have also been watching some anime online from this website: http://jkanime.co/
    Is that ilegal too? Am I totally screwed?!! I just got here on Monday and had absolutely no idea!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 01/10/2017 at 14:31

      If this is streaming, then it’s probably fine.

  • Reply Santiago Bogacz Morales 30/09/2017 at 13:38

    Hello Bastien!
    I got here on Monday and did not know absolutely anything about this. Yesterday I download through soulseek a whole 20-song album and uploaded 2 Bill Evans songs to YouTube. I instantly got 2 emails from YouTube that the videos were now blocked because of copyright (though they appear on the website).
    My question is:
    – Will I get sued because of my uploads to YouTube?
    – Will I get sued because of downloading from Soulseek (its a P2P program) or can I use Soulseek?

    Thanks man! Now I’m scared to death!!!!

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 01/10/2017 at 14:31

      Hi Santiago. Can’t answer for the YouTube case and i’d say that you take risks with Soulseek. Both were illegal of course.

  • Reply iAnonymous 23/09/2017 at 23:52

    My Facebook Friend had sent me a link of a video from a Facebook Group. Upon clicking, it is one of the latest Hollywood Film. I closed it immediately because of fear of being caught. Is it okay to watch it?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/09/2017 at 11:20

      Well done for the anonymous email. ;). It is legal and moral to watch it? no. Can you get caught: very likely no, when it’s not torrents.

  • Reply Tens 20/09/2017 at 21:04

    Hello.I live in Germany,But i want to download one old game without torrent,if i download without torrent but from another website,everything its okay or im gonna have trouble ?Thanks :d

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 26/09/2017 at 09:58

      Hi Tens, Please read the post again. The answer is there.

  • Reply Gamyy 19/09/2017 at 14:57

    Hello, can I download music from onlinevideoconverter.com? And can I download movies that already published 1-2 years ago from a website (not torrent, streamt, pirate, etc.) Just a normal website like watchfullmovies, pinoymovies, openlood…

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 20/09/2017 at 08:30

      Hi Gamyy, can you do that without getting caught for now? Yes. Is it still illegal? Yes.

  • Reply Laura M 14/09/2017 at 20:36

    Hi, I live in Stuttgart and NEVER download or upload anything. But I see movies and tv shows from my country quite often. For your knowledge am I at risk of getting a fine for this or am I safe? Or in alternative do you have any official reference to suggest me in order to get very precise information about this? Thanks for any help you might provide

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 15/09/2017 at 16:03

      Hi Laura. This is a vague question because you give no information on the channel you use to watch these shows. I can’t answer that question.

  • Reply S. Aziz 09/09/2017 at 20:25

    Hi, will there be a problem if i download games from google drive links in germany?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/09/2017 at 19:53

      Direct downloads from a server cannot be tracked.

  • Reply iuly 09/09/2017 at 19:06

    Hello , I am new to Germany , i have a seedbox with vpn , it is legal to watch movies streaming with plex or downloading direct from seedbox ?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 10/09/2017 at 19:56

      I am sorry, i’m not knowledgeable with seedbox, but if you have a VPN to protect your traffic’s privacy, it should be fine.

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