One needs to be aware that illegal downloads (Torrents or otherwise) are punishable as per German law. Such downloads can results in huge fines to jail terms. Watching a movie on the Internet or downloading a song is often prohibited. Many online file-sharing services are illegal. German laws are strict and refugees should also beware of wrongful use. Even many Germans fall into the trap: A movie is downloaded from a random site and then watched in the evening after work. Or one can quickly download their favorite band’s latest song to their mobile phone. In many cases, however, this is illegal and people who use such websites can be prosecuted for copyright infringement. These laws also apply to students and visitors.
Illegal downloads: What should one watch out for?
As a general rule: Anything that costs money in a department store is not free on the Internet. Downloading a movie for free is almost always illegal and any films currently showing in movie theaters are generally not available legally on the Internet. So if one has already discovered that the latest Hollywood blockbuster three days after its premiere is on the Internet, one should be skeptical about it. It is safe to assume that downloading music on a personal mobile phone always costs something – after all, the musicians want to earn some money.
File-sharing platforms, like ones that use programs such as BitTorrent or eMule to transfer data, are particularly sensitive. In addition to watching movies or downloading music, one should be aware of what is allowed in social networks: There are copyright rules even for YouTube, Facebook or blogs. One can only share photos or clips that you have created yourself. One cannot simply distribute content from other sites unless it is through share buttons provided for different social media services. If one would indeed like to use/share an article/video/photo, it is safe to add a link to the original material (as shown below in this article).
What happens if one gets caught?
Illegal file sharing violates German law. There are law firms that are specialized in sending written compensation claims to offenders. The IP address is used to identify the network which has been used for the online exchange. Anyone who is caught must expect fines of several hundred to thousand euros.
Who has to pay?
People who make Wi-Fi available to others, like neighbors or roommates, must expect to be held accountable. If in doubt, not only the person illegally downloading movies or music but also the owner of the Internet connection is at fault: Both are responsible. Since the law does prescribe a penalty or punishment, but instead, a claim for damages, one must not fear to lose their residency permit, said Henning Werner, a lawyer from the consumer protection office.
Why is the law so strict?
Visitors (Non-citizens) cannot hope for leniency. In Germany, ignorance of the law will not be counted as an excuse. Of course, most law firms are aware of the fact that students/visitors do not have much money. However, if violations are made, one must pay fines if they download anything illegally. So it is better to be informed. German copyright law is extremely strict. It is supposed to protect creators, like writers, artists, and singers, from those who spread their work without permission and without payment.
How can one find legal films or music on the Internet?
Just streaming, which means only watching or listening without saving the files, is generally not a problem. The German consumer protection office offers advice on its website: When streaming movies and music, you should rely on the large well-known sites such as iTunes, Spotify, Netflix or Amazon [Link]. Anyone who is afraid of having used something illegally can call the consumer protection office for counseling.
This article is an adaption of the article “Warning for refugees on illegal downloads” on Deutsche Welle.