Since when is streaming in Germany illegal?

You’ve probably heard some scary rumours about streaming or downloading in Germany. Unfortunately, they’re true. So that you don’t get hit with a whopping fine or lawyer’s fees, check out the facts here before clicking play or download.

    OK, so you’ve found an apartment, registered your address, started learning German and got your head around the basics of German insurance and taxes – you’ve done well! Time to take the load off and catch up on some of those TV shows and movies you’ve been meaning to watch.

    Now, maybe in your home country you would have streamed or downloaded them from some dodgy website. We know you’re new here so we’re sorry for shouting at you in German but “NEIN! DAS IST VERBOTEN!!”

    In 2017, the European Court of Justice or Europäische Gerichtshof (abbreviated to EuGH, which sounds like the noise you might make after you drink Goldkrone for the first time – try it and see) made a landmark judgment making the streaming of movies, TV series or sporting events illegal. Fines for violating the copyright laws are currently limited to €1,000 for first-time offenders and the lawyer’s fees will set you back a further €150. And you thought cinema tickets were expensive...

    Can I get fined for downloading movies?

    Oh newbie, do you even have to ask? Yes, torrenting is highly illegal. And never, ever upload anything – fines for this are astronomical. Peer-to-peer sharing platforms often have uploading enabled by default so be careful.

    Who are these copyright lawyers?

    Large legal firms are contracted by movie studios to monitor torrents for various movie studios. If they see your IP address, they can ask your ISP (Internet service provider) to give them your street address. They will then send you an Abmahnung, a polite, formal request to pay between €500 and €1,000 euros, which nobody wants to find in their letter box.

    Is there anything I can do if I get fined?

    Consider joining the library – that only costs around €10 a year and it might make you smarter. In the meantime, you can get your own lawyer, who’ll get your fine reduced to €100 - €300, but then you’ll have to pay the fine and your lawyer. Whatever happens, it will be expensive and not at all sexy like an American legal drama. Or porn. Bom chicka wow wow...

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    What sites do Germans use to stream stuff?

    Most Germans used to use, 123movies or watchservices because nobody knew if they were really illegal or not so nobody got prosecuted besides the baddies that ran the servers and uploaded all the movies. EuGH effectively killed this party by ruling that users have to check if a stream is obviously a copyright violation. So far, it seems there have been no prosecutions, but streaming is not a legal grey zone any more.

    How do I know if a website is illegal?

    If you’re asking the question, then you’re already pretty sure there’s something iffy about it. There’s an excellent chance a website is illegal if you’re asked for money for a better-quality transmission or 90% of the links don't work and you get a million pop-ups per click.

    On the other hand, streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sky or YouTube are perfectly legit. However, you might be left scratching your head as to why the selection is so crap in comparison to your home country or why, why, WHY a movie like “Fargo” is only available in German. (Eye roll at German Amazon Prime.
    What?! But the Minnesotan accent in Fargo is as much a part of the comedy as the stellar cast and superb dialogue! You’re preaching to the choir. Go tell Amazon.

    Maybe I’ll go watch some porn to cheer myself up… Sure, knock yourself out! Or knock one out. Watching porn in Germany is not verboten. Pirating pornos is. As for being in one, as long as you pay your taxes, you’ll probably be fine. Just remember that “ich will dich” means “I want you” not “I want dick” but, in porn, maybe it’s not such an important distinction.

    It wasn’t me, it was my flatmate…

    Ah, the old flatmate excuse. Before October 2017, you would have been held liable if anyone pirated copyright material on your internet connection. The so-called Mitstörerhaftung (co-perpetrator liability) was recently declared to be in violation of European Union laws and was repealed. The updated law is pretty straightforward: you are no longer responsible for copyright violations on your network if you did not cause or facilitate them. Good luck proving it.

    How can I watch shows that are available in my home country?

    Use a VPN like Zenmate. It’s a German company so you know your data will be safe. Not that we’re encouraging you, but when you browse the internet this way, the remote server sees the VPN's IP address, not yours. This means that copyright lawyers cannot see your IP address, and cannot easily trace anything back to you. It also lets you watch shows and videos that are only available in other countries or see websites that are blocked in Germany. Just make sure you don't use a free one because they will sell your data for money and then you’ll be in trouble. Also be aware that Netflix might ban you for using a VPN – then you’ll be stuck with German TV. But hey, at least you’ll feel like you’re getting your money’s worth from the ARD ZDF Deutschlandradio Beitragsservice you’re forced to pay.

    So, to summarise:

    Streaming + torrenting = BAD.
    Learning German and heading down to your local pub in your socks and sandals to watch Tatort on a Sunday evening at 20.15 like a good German = GOOD.