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.

346 Comments

  • Reply Ami 11/11/2018 at 09:41

    Hi!

    I am an international student and currently in Germany. I came here 1 month ago. Yesterday, I removed a movie downloaded from PC when I was in my home country. But, my torrentz file has automatically run and today morning I saw the movie has downloaded again. But, I did not do on my purpose it and I removed all torrent files and related softwares from my PC. Is there any authorized body to inform about this situation and explain that I am not guilty for the situation. By the way I live in NRW- Dortmund.

    Thank you.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 11/11/2018 at 21:47

      Hey Ami. Nope.

  • Reply Madhav 27/10/2018 at 16:28

    Hi i brought my friends laptop in that he watched porn movies unfortunately when i connected net and searched every thing porn movies opened is it a problem will it cause any fine or its not a problem.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 30/10/2018 at 10:10

      Hey Madhav. I don’t really understand the question and it doesn’t seem related to torrenting or streaming that much…

  • Reply Rr 21/10/2018 at 07:22

    Just out of curiosity…can people download material from Telegram Legally?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 23/10/2018 at 17:50

      Hey Rr, Copyright infringement is always illegal, no matter the channel or tool used.

  • Reply Simon 18/10/2018 at 20:47

    Hey, it’s me again.

    Just wanted to ask about this software called KINOVEA https://www.kinovea.org . I visited its official website and it says it’s free to download and it’s an open source. Is it 100% legal to download this software? Sorry if it sounds like a stupid question but from now on I’m gonna be really cautious with all the downloads in Germany.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 19/10/2018 at 10:08

      Hey Simon. Well it seems that you know the answer already: free to download. Soooo…

    • Reply mike 23/10/2018 at 08:49

      Hi Simon I think this one is a trap, please do not use it you get get huge fines through the post.

  • Reply Simon 16/10/2018 at 21:06

    Hi,

    I have a few questions regarding downloading in Germany, I hope you can help.

    1. I arrived in Germany 3 weeks ago as an exchange student for 4 months and didn’t know anything about this illegal downloading thing. For my master’s thesis I’ll be doing some football match analysis, therefore, I needed to download some last season Champions league games. I downloaded quite a few but NOT through torrent (I don’t have torrent installed on my laptop). I downloaded through these websites (www.fullmatchesandshows.com and fullmatchsports.com) but the websites redirected me to openload and MEGA.nz (the downloading was direct from there). Is downloading through these websites trackable? Should I be worried?
    2. What about watching football online? Watching live streams? Is it trackable? Because I also did that.

    3. What about downloading podcasts from websites like BBC sport? They are made available to open public.

    Thanks for your answers.

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 17/10/2018 at 09:32

      1- It is direct downloads. You can’t track that the same way you can track torrent nodes.
      2- Please refer to the streaming part of the post.
      3- Well, that’s a podcast made available by the BBC, so yeah, that’s legal-

  • Reply Hasan Mahedi 12/10/2018 at 00:02

    Hi, Recently I have arrived in Germany as an international student. I have a bit torrent software in my laptop but i didn’t do anything with that. I used my friend’s wifi to do my university work in the laptop and that is only for few minutes. I didn’t download or upload anything. When i came to know about the law i immediately uninstall the torrent. However, My friend said, he got a letter with a fine and this is because of my laptop. Is it really because of me? I didn’t do anything with the software. So why i have to pay?

    • Reply Bastien - Settle in Berlin 12/10/2018 at 10:28

      Hey Hasan. You have to look in the logs of the software, it only takes a few seconds to share files via torrent nodes. You can compare the files you shared with what’s indicated on the letter.

  • Reply sim 11/10/2018 at 16:51

    Hi,
    i watched a movie at popcorn time and has been sued by WALDORF-FROMMER while i was giving a visit to my mom in germany now she got the letter but i have transfered all the information on my name. but i am not willing to pay the amount of 915 euros because i didnt get any kind warning for not using it.
    is there any kind of help i can get regarding this ? or anyone or lawyer i could consult????

  • 1 2 3 4

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