Last updated: 28th of March 2016
This document is about the implications from downloading copyrighted content in Germany.
It is very easy to receive an enormous fine for breaching copyright law in Germany. This is almost always from downloading copyrighted content via BitTorrent.
Who is tracking us?
The government/police are not tracking your internet activity. Legal firms which represent the copyright holders are tracking the users of individual torrent files. Many users of private BitTorrent trackers claim to not be tracked.
Is torrenting illegal in Germany
No. It is 100% totally legal (it is allowed) to use BitTorrent here in Germany. Like most other countries, it is still illegal to download copyrighted content online (by any means) in Germany, including via BitTorrent. The most common way people receive fines for copyright infringement in Germany is from using BitTorrent, but it is not the use of the BitTorrent protocol itself which makes it illegal.
Is it legal to use a VPN to avoid being caught?
Many people use VPN services to avoid being caught for piracy in Germany. You should not do this as it is definitely illegal to use a VPN to commit crimes. VPN’s are however recommended by many people as a way to improve your general privacy and anonymity online. Please do not use these services for breaking the law. For advice on how to use these for legal purposes, please visit our VPN document.
But why do people say torrenting is illegal in Germany if it is not?
This is because most people who try to torrent in Germany receive huge fines. The fine is for piracy, not torrenting. Whenever you connect via Bit Torrent, other people on the network can see your IP address and exactly what you are and are not downloading/uploading. This allows rights holders (or representatives of them) to track your behaviour. In most countries, this results in them sending angry letters to your ISP. Most ISP’s in other countries simply ignore these and allow you to continue. However, German law requires the ISP’s to hand over your personal details to the rights holders. This has resulted in users receiving enormous fines in Germany whereas this does not occur in other countries.
Do I need to pay the fine?
Yes. Or you can inform a lawyer that you did not download the content you are accused of, and they can usually get rid of the fine for you. Costs for this are often over €150, but this is significantly less than most fines.
I don’t know what torrenting is, and I still received a fine!?
In this case, either the rights holder is lying, incompetent, your connection was used by someone else or you did use a torrent client without realising (see section on Popcorn Time and Hola below). Most cases probably involve you allowing someone else to use your connection (neighbours, friends, visitors etc.) or your router may have been hacked (or you have totally open WiFi). To ensure that no one can use your connection for torrenting, it is a good idea to keep it only for yourself. Make sure you have a very strong password and a correctly configured router to avoid anyone else being able to use your WiFi connection without your permission.
Streaming vs Downloading
Streaming counts as ‘transmitting’ which is legal even for content you do not have the legal right to download (https://dejure.org/gesetze/UrhG/19a.html).
Downloading means making a copy. There is debate amongst legal circles as to whether it is legal to stream copyrighted content (https://dejure.org/gesetze/UrhG/16.html).
However, German law realises that streaming means downloading, but it understands that copy to be ephemeral and not intended for redistribution (https://dejure.org/gesetze/UrhG/44a.html).
Despite the legal ambiguity over video and audio streaming in Germany, many people do this anyway.
Free streaming services (it is unclear whether it is legal to view content which the copyright holder has not allowed you to access via these services):
- Sound cloud (music only)
Paid streaming services (these are all entirely legal to use):
- Amazon Prime
- Spotify (music only)
- YouTube (when accessed via the USA)
Using the “unblocker” service Hola to obtain content from other countries is an extremely bad idea. Because of the underlying technlogy, you put yourself at extreme risk by using this service. It routes other users internet connections through your own computer, which could result in you being accused of things which you did not do. Visit adios-hola.org for further information regarding why you should never use Hola.
Popcorn Time is a BitTorrent client. You will likely receive a huge fine if you use Popcorn Time in Germany. Popcorn Time itself is not illegal, but using it to download content without permission (which is usually the only thing it is used for) is illegal.
The Onion Router (TOR) is used for privacy purposes. It is much too slow for video streaming purposes.
Netflix recently implemented geo-blocking to prevent users from accessing content available in other countries. Some members have had luck bypassing this system, but others have not. Most VPN services are failing to bypass this.
YouTube to MP3 converters
The following law indicates that this may be legal in Germany.