Illegal downloading, file sharing in Germany

Private downloading of music, films and TV series by at-home internet users has become very popular. Those doing so should be aware that downloading copyright-protected material and making it available to the public via peer to peer file sharing software is against the law in Germany. Internet users can be held liable for damages to the copyright holder under German copyright laws.

German copyright laws grant the owner of copyrighted work an exclusive right to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform and publicly display the work or to authorize such. Downloading and uploading copyrighted works without permission contravenes the copyright holder’s right of reproduction and distribution.

Upon discovering a violation, German law firms acting on behalf of proprietors of copyright literary/artistic/musical material will mail out cease and desist letters to hundreds, if not thousands, of Internet users alleging that those users made unauthorized use of such copyrighted work by illegally downloading music, audio books or films from the Internet and making those works available to other Internet users.

The wording of these cease-and-desist letters are nearly identical and consist of allegations that on a particular day at a particular time the Internet user associated with a specific IP address downloaded a protected work and made it available to other users mainly through a P2P file sharing program.

Copyright holders identify illegal downloading activities by using the services of anti-piracy firms to track and search copyrighted works, which often include current chart hits or movies on popular file sharing P2P networks. The firms can then match an upload available online to a specific IP address. Once an IP address is identified, the firm applies for a court order, and once granted, it generally orders the internet service providers who store user data to release contact information for the user to whom the investigated IP address is assigned. Requested contact information includes the name and address of the user.

As a general rule, the individual who contracted with the ISP is legally responsible for any illegal download activity, even if it is carried out by family members, visitors or neighbors.

In fact, leaving a WLAN unsecured makes a user responsible for any violations third parties may cause on the network. To protect yourself against any illegal downloading from others using your unsecured WLAN, you should set up a username and password for a wireless router or any similar equipment so that only those who know the password are able to use the Internet connection through the wireless router. Keep the password safe.

If you receive a demand letter from a law firm alleging you made an illegal download, don’t ignore it. The issued notice letter is generally considered to be legally sufficient and enforceable. In their letter, most attorneys insist on payment of damages, a statement from you promising not to illegally download, and legal fees.

You should consult with an attorney prior to communicating with the law firm, signing any documents, or making any payments.

If you require legal advice in relation to an allegation of illegal downloading, make an appointment to see a legal assistance attorney by emailing us at: