Arno Lampmann, partner at legal firm Lampmann, Behn and Rosenbaum, says there’s one basic rule of thumb in German copyright law: assume everything is illegal.
Downloading – making any copy is technically illegal Lampmann: “Let’s say you download a film without uploading it or sharing it. This is basically illegal – because you are making a new copy. But there are exceptions that allow you to make individual copies for private use. Recently they have toughened these exceptions, so that you can’t download material from obviously illegal sources.”
Uploading – making copyrighted material publicly available is illegal This is what is most commonly prosecuted by cease-and-desist letters. All peer-to-peer filesharing networks work by forcing ‘peers’, or users, to upload files as they are downloading them. This means they are making copyrighted material publicly available, and so they’re in breach of copyright.
Streaming – the exception that evades the rule Streaming, which seems so innocent, throws up its own legal problems. Streaming means you watch a movie in a browser and have no control over the data – you don’t keep the file. But the way browsers work means that the film is always being temporarily saved on your computer. So by the letter of the law streaming is actually a breach of copyright too. Here again, an exception has been made, because in this case making a copy is technically necessary for watching the film – but only if it comes from a legal source.
On the other hand: in practice, no one has ever received a cease-and-desist letter for watching an illegally streamed movie. “And you know why? Because you can’t find them,” says Lampmann. “If that were possible, then it really would throw the cat among the pigeons. Theoretically, the people making streams could find the IP addresses of the people watching the film, but they obviously have no interest in doing that, because they are themselves engaged in criminal activities.”