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Tip of the week: What you need to know about downloading and streaming in Germany

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Tip of the week: What you need to know about downloading and streaming in Germany
Don't be left in the dark about illegal streaming in Germany. Photo: DPA
12:58 CET+01:00
Do you know what’s illegal and what’s not? Our guide to downloading and streaming in Germany can help you out.

Almost every month, exclusive series and new films are released online by various different providers. Fortunately the internet does allow you to find everything for free, but is this legal? Germany has become notorious for being tougher on illegal streaming and piracy that other countries in Europe, and breaking copyright law can lead to fines and even jail sentences.

We clarify what's illegal when it comes to streaming, downloading and uploading in Germany as of December 2018, and how to avoid scams.

Can I stream online in Germany?

If you stream movies from legal sources such as Netflix, iTunes, Google Play Movies and Amazon Prime Video, you are following the law and have nothing to worry about.

In April 2017 the European Court of Justice decided that people watching streams are acting illegally if they know or should know the streams are illegal.

Netflix is becoming a popular legal form of streaming in Germany. Photo: DPA

For example, you shouldn’t assume that watching the newest cinema releases for free online is legal. However, streaming is difficult to track as the websites generally don’t record the IP addresses of their users. The people most at risk tend to be those who become paid subscribers and hand over credit card information or email addresses. Furthermore the potential damages to be claimed are low since you aren't distributing to a large number of people.

Despite its reputation for abiding by the rules, Germany remains in the top 10 of countries visiting piracy sites online, according to MUSO, a global authority on digital piracy.

What about uploading, downloading and torrenting?

These are all illegal as you are clearly breaking copyright law and can be punished with fines and even jail sentences. German laws concerning file-sharing are pretty strict and clearly condemn any kind of file sharing activity related to copyrighted content, including both uploads and downloads - although in reality it is uploading which is most likely to mean you get caught.  However, using services like torrent clients makes you automatically share the file you are downloading, so you are both uploading and downloading when you do this.

What happens if I get caught?

If you get caught, you’ll probably receive a letter from a law firm representing copyright holders asking you to pay a fine. These can be steep, often hundreds of euros - this explains why online forums are full of people who got caught downloading one movie, or one television series and have received letters asking for anywhere from a couple of hundred to almost a thousand euros.

These letters shouldn’t be ignored as they can lead to court cases where legal fees will surpass any fine you might have been asked to pay. Seeking legal advice if you receive a letter is a wise idea, as lawyers can sometimes reduce the fine amount, but in the end you will probably have to pay up and sign a cease-and-desist declaration (Unterlassungserklärung).

One thing to bear in mind if you live in a WG (shared flat) or share internet with others is that the owner of the Internet access will be held responsible at first for any illegal uploads and downloads on that network. Therefore if the internet is in your name you might receive a letter and then have to sign documents to pass the blame onto the person behind the illegal downloading.somebody else.

Is using a VPN legal?

VPN stands for a virtual private network that reroutes your Internet traffic through a remote server located in a selected country. It hides and replaces your IP address, so your online activity is no longer visible to your ISP.

A variety of apps allow users to change the VPN on their smartphone. Photo: DPA

Many people use VPNs to access geo-restricted content, If you’re an expat living in Germany and don’t want to lose access to your favourite shows, VPN can make you feel like you never left home – all you have to do is connect to a VPN server in your home country.

However, they are also often used to as a wall to protect people from being caught torrenting, downloading or uploading.

SEE ALSO: What you need to know when you download music in Germany

VPNs are legal in Germany, but breaching copyright is not. Even though the VPN allows you access to geo-locked websites, it is up to you to avoid infringing on copyright whilst doing so.

One good thing is that as of December 3rd this year you no longer need to use a VPN when online shopping in the EU to access the websites of other countries.

What scams are there surrounding streaming in Germany?

There have been cases of scams where letters and emails are sent out asking for fines for illegal streaming, so if you receive one of these letters you should always check if it is legitimate.

Last December emails were sent which claimed to be on behalf of 20th Century Fox asking for upwards of €375 and detailing addresses, browsers and operating systems. However, as German consumer group Tarnkappe pointed out, these letters did have signs that they were a scam such the lack of a mention of a specific film, a time or a date.

These are all elements likely to appear within any legitimate letter from a service provider, content owner or law enforcement agency.

To conclude, all we can say is that you’ve got to be careful when online in Germany. The authorities are definitely cracking down on illegal downloading and uploading and streaming might come next. Using a VPN is not a failsafe option, but it can help you feel more secure online.

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