What Is Illegal To Download in Germany?

Sep 17, 2021Internet, Living in Germany

In many countries, downloading copyrighted media and files on the internet without permission is illegal, so it’s in Germany. Yet, downloading movies, music, and TV series from the web has become very popular regardless. But in many cases, users aren’t aware of the legal consequences it can follow. 

In Germany, downloading files on the internet from unauthorized sources causes a violation of copyright and is, therefore, illegal. The copyright laws apply to German and foreign citizens, even to people who are staying in the country only short-term. 

You need to be aware that German law punishes illegal downloads (torrents or otherwise). Watching a movie on the internet or downloading a song is often prohibited unless it’s an authorized source and download is intended for private use. Such downloads can result in huge fines. Learn in this article everything about downloading media on the internet in Germany and how to do it lawfully. 

Laws and rules about downloading in Germany

In Germany, downloading a copyrighted file without the permission of the owner is explicitly illegal, as well as uploading (although there are some rare exceptions for downloading copyrighted files for personal use).

The download of illegally offered movies or music on the internet is illegal in Germany. The download is only officially legitimate if it’s provided by an authorized website that is also compliant with the copyrights of the owners. 

However, this is rarely the case when it comes to the common file-sharing sites offering media for free. Therefore, downloading files from the internet is prohibited if it can be assumed that the copy is illegal. 

Besides that, German laws concerning file-sharing are pretty strict. You can run into a fine of several hundred or thousands EUR. Torrent and other P2P users can receive an official warning letter from a German lawyer.

Moreover, distributing a copyrighted media file, whether via electronic or non-electronic methods, without the copyright holder’s express permission is also illegal in Germany. This includes unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing. 

Yet, if you have paid for a song, movie, or other media that has a copyright, then downloading it from the internet won’t be an issue. You can check out the law regarding copyrights and copyright infringement in Germany here.

Can you download movies in Germany?

Nowadays, it’s straightforward and convenient just to download a movie online. But sometimes, using Netflix will be cheaper because downloading movies from the internet can result in high legal fees. 

You must be especially careful with the source where you are downloading the file. Downloading from online file-sharing platforms often involves a violation of copyright. Hence, it’s no longer a lawful source.

Generally, if the platform offers movies for download for free, it’s not a trusted source and most likely an illegal one. Usually, films shown for free on the internet don’t have the consent of the copyright holder. Therefore, the download will be unlawful.

If you want to save money on fines, it’s advisable to pay for Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Can you download music in Germany?

Music also falls under copyright laws in Germany. When downloading music to your phone or laptop, you should pay for it. Downloading music on official apps like Spotify can be free and also permitted in Germany. 

Otherwise, most of the music offered for free on the internet for download is illegal and infringes the artist’s copyright. After all, the musicians also want to earn money from it.

Downloading from torrent websites

Downloading copyrighted files with torrent programs such as BitComet or Vuze, which are based on the BitTorrent principle, is illegal in Germany. From a legal perspective, downloading from torrent sites is considered as you are making copyrighted materials available. Because a user uploads a file at the same time when downloading it. 

Therefore, you can get even more trouble by using torrent services. It’s a really bad idea to download movies from such sites. If you decide to use one of those, then just streaming will cause you less harm. 

If you use VPN, you can stream movies and remain anonymous. Hence, avoid legal consequences. NordVPN, for example, is a popular choice.

Can you download videos from YouTube in Germany?

YouTube’s terms of service explicitly forbid users from copying, reproducing, broadcasting, selling, or exploiting any of its content without the consent of the platform or the content’s licensor. 

As such, downloading TV series, movies, clips, or any other copyrighted content on YouTube is considered breaking the law in Germany. The situation is the same in the UK and across different EU countries.

So, if you download files from YouTube, you are at risk of being sued. However, it’s legal to download content from YouTube for your own use. 

There is a so-called private copy, which is generally permissible. Here it’s crucial that there is no copy protection or similar that would have to be hacked to download the song or video. The content must remain only for private personal use. 

Can you download e-books in Germany?

The downloading ebook can be very tempting. Since it’s just a text file, it might also appear an innocent and straightforward thing. Moreover, the internet is full of free offers.

Unfortunately, it’s also illegal to download copyrighted eBooks for free from unauthorized sources. Nonetheless, there are some legit sites where you can find free ebooks. These books usually belong to some old classical genre or unknown publishers. 

Downloading regular ebooks for free can be also be punished by notice or warning from the lawyer in Germany. The reason again, the violation of the copyright. 

Especially when it comes to the well-known and popular eBooks. Nowadays, publishers, authors, or the rights holders of eBooks are taking more action against illegal downloads on the internet. 

File-sharing in Germany

Peer-to-Peer (P2P) file-sharing is the most popular but controversial method of file sharing on the internet. P2P file sharing allows users to access, download directly and edit files like audio, photos, or videos. 

File-sharing is in a grey area or illegal in Germany. Pay particular attention when using classic file-sharing networks. The most well-known are “uTorent” and “eMule”. 

Generally, file sharing is illegal in Germany, except for sharing material that is not copyrighted or proprietary. There are many sites that illegally distribute movies and music via file sharing. Therefore, the download will be considered illegal. 

Moreover, file sharing in Germany can cause fines of 1,000 EUR and more even for the copyrighted files, which are downloaded through BitTorrent.

How you can get caught?

Your IP address is the main way how law firms and other interested parties can find you. In fact, German law firms hire third-party anti-piracy services that are scanning BitTorrent traffic for copyrighted items, recording IP addressees that are currently downloading files illegally in Germany. 

Popular films, music, games, and porn are specifically tracked.

After that, the IP addresses of the users get stored and forwarded to the internet provider such as Deutsche Telekom or Vodafone. Your internet provider is obligated to disclose any information linked to your IP address. This is how they collect more private details.

Also, it’s recommended to have a good internet provider in Germany. Check out our comparison article here.

Based on that information, they can send a warning letter or fine to your mailing address.

If you have anything downloaded, they will send you a letter within a year. However, if you don’t receive any notice within three years, the issue can be considered invalid. 

In order to protect your IP address, you could get a private VPN. NordVPN is one of the best in the market.

Consequences of illegal file downloading in Germany

Downloading movies and other copyright-protected media on the internet are illegal in Germany, and every user must know it.

Nevertheless, if you receive a warning letter because you or someone else on your home network has allegedly downloaded a copyrighted film, it is often worth consulting a lawyer. 

If you are illegally downloading copyrighted content in Germany in most cases, you will receive an Abmahnung – or warning letter from a German lawyer asking you to pay for compensation.

Downloading movies from a file-sharing site is a criminal offense to the copyrights of the owners and is punished by law in Germany. For example, you can end up paying several thousand EUR in fines.

The amount of the fine also depends on the file or movie. A very well-known and also still current film will cost you much more than some older releases.

Therefore, you should carefully consider whether it really makes sense to download a movie from the internet or not. 

Nonetheless, you shouldn’t be afraid that you will lose your German residence permit because of illegally downloading something from the internet. 

But who will be liable?

As a general rule, the individual who contracted with the ISP (internet service provider) is legally responsible for any illegal download activity, even if the fault of some family member, visitor, or neighbor.

Ultimately, the person who downloads the illegal file will be liable. However, also people who have provided the liable person Wi-Fi like apartment owners, neighbors, or roommates, might be held accountable. 

They are responsible for the network securing, so other people don’t use it to download copyrighted content in Germany. 

Hence, not only the person illegally downloading movies or music but also the owner of the internet connection is at fault. Thus, both will be responsible. 

But it doesn’t mean the owner of your internet connection will pay for your fine. They aren’t expected to educate every adult internet user about illegal downloading appropriately.

Fines for illegal downloading in Germany

Fines for illegal downloading of files on the internet range from a couple of hundred to almost a thousand EUR and sometimes even more. If you want to hire a lawyer for the processes, it will cost an additional 200 EUR. 

Law firms are claiming compensation in Germany on behalf of their clients for the infringement. You might see three different fines while caught downloading something from the internet:

  • Costs based on the cease and desist order (Unterlassungsansprüche)
  • Costs based on the actual compensation itself (Schadensersatzansprüche)
  • Costs based on processing fees involved in dealing with your case (Aufwendungsersatzansprüche)

Altogether, you can expect around 1,000 EUR per issue. The processing fees are typically in a range between 100 EUR to 300 EUR.

Here is an example based on real-life practices from a well-known law firm. In most cases:

  • Total – 935,8 EUR
  • Compensation – 700 EUR
  • Processing fees – 235 EUR

(Source: www.settle-in-berlin.com.)

What to do if you have received a warning or fine?

You have several options on how to respond to the warnings or fines from lawyers in Germany. 

Firstly, of course, you can pay a fine. 

Secondly, you might decide to ignore the notice. Many people end up doing so. There is the chance that lawyers won’t follow up with your case, especially if it’s not that severe. 

Yet, if they do follow-up in the end, you can expect some additional legal fees, and your case might also be enforced.

If having a large budget, you can also hire a lawyer to help you with the situation. They could reduce the fine amount and, in some cases, even set you free. Expect to pay several hundred EUR for a lawyer’s service. 

However, a lawyer won’t give you any guarantee for success. 

How to avoid any legal problems on the German internet?

The best way to avoid any legal problems is not to download any files from the internet which can be a subject of copyright. Besides that, the best practice is always to use VPN, even if it’s just browsing the web. 

NordVPNExpressVPN and Surfshark are the main VPN providers in Germany. In fact, ExpressVPN is the world’s biggest VPN company.

Here are the most essential points about all companies:

NordVPN

A world-renowned VPN provider with over 10 years of experience. 

  • 240+ servers in Germany
  • Get from 3,10 EUR per month
  •  full 30-day refund policy
  • Perfect for streaming and torrenting

ExpressVPN

The world’s biggest VPN company, founded in 2009.

  • High security
  • Blazing-fast speeds
  • Get for 5,69 EUR per month
  • Full 30-day refund policy
  • 5 devices
  • Get 3 months free with a one-year subscription 
  • Kill-switch for streaming  
  • Works with Netflix

Surfshark 

Surfshark is the third-largest VPN provider in the world.

  • Best budget option
  • Get for 2,2 EUR per month
  • Killswitch for streaming  
  • Unlimited number of devices
  • 30-day free trial and 30 days money-back guarantee

VPN is also ridiculously cheap for the protection you will get. For just a few extra EUR per month, you can be sure that German lawyers won’t bother you. 

Yet, downloading illegal files on the internet, even with a VPN, is illegal regardless. We recommend just streaming in that case. But what about streaming and watching movies online in Germany? Is it legal? Read in this article.

Also, it’s recommended to have a good internet provider. Check out our comparison article here.

If you choose the VPN carefully and don’t go with the free options of VPN, you can torrent anonymously.

Don’t forget to turn on the kill-switch which is crucial for torrenting. Kill-switch ensures that if your VPN suddenly drops – your internet connection will drop also. This secures against any data leaks. Also, always keep your VPN turn on while using torrents.

Why using VPN is important in Germany?

While using a VPN, no one can track your IP address. This is the primary way how lawyers are finding lawbreakers in Germany. 

Therefore, when you browse the internet or torrent movies with a VPN, the remote server sees the VPN’s IP address instead of yours. Moreover, using a VPN for streaming is much safer.

NordVPN is one of the best providers out there. Don’t forget to apply a VPN killswitch when streaming. It will protect against IP exposure during VPN connection interruptions. It’s advisable to avoid free VPN providers for safety reasons. 

What is illegal on the internet in Germany?

German copyright law is very strict. It’s intended to protect authors – movie makers, artists, singers, writers – from others distributing their work without permission and without payment.

Therefore, all media available for free to download on the internet is a violation of the owner’s copyrights. Thus, such media is illegal to download and distribute. 

Where can you legally consume media on the German internet?

Pure streaming isn’t prohibited when it comes to well-known and authorized resources, such as YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Myvideo, or Spotify. 

Recommended products and services in Germany:

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