Germany's Ministry of Justice: Viewing Is Not a Copyright-Infringing Act

Rhett Pardon

BERLIN — Germany's Ministry of Justice, in a judicial declaration yesterday, said that the mere viewing of a copyrighted video stream without permission is not in itself an act of copyright infringement.

The ministry's opinion comes in the wake of a Cologne federal court's decision to review a lower court ruling allowing German law firm Urmann and Colleagues to send as many as 30,000 letters to recipients asking them to settle and pay up for viewing videos on RedTube. The Cologne court said there were "considerable" doubts about the law firm's legal maneuvers.

After receiving the lower court's blessing, Urmann and Colleagues ordered users in Germany to pay €1,000 in compensation for streaming "pirated" videos on as well as legal fees of €150 and investigative costs of up to €250 for streaming movies such as  "Glamour Showgirls" and "Amanda's Secret" that were placed on RedTube.

RedTube, operated by adult entertainment conglomerate MindGeek, fought back, eventually winning an injunction to stop antipiracy lawsuit threats.

According to yesterday's Ministry of Justice’s ruling, the viewing of streamed content that is temporarily cached is legal, whereas downloading a movie stored on a hard drive for later viewing  and reproduction remains illegal.

The opinion by the Ministry of Justice, however, doesn't hold much weight because the question of streaming legality is one yet to be decided in Germany’s highest court.

The federal Ministry of Justice typically devotes itself to creating and changing law in the classic core areas related to Constitutional law.

“Whether the use of streaming offerings constitutes a reproduction or violates the rights of authors and holders of related rights has not yet been clarified by the Supreme Court,” the Ministry told Parliament yesterday.

And whatever the German Supreme Court eventually decides also might not be the last word. The definitive ruling will arrive from outside its borders at the European Court of Justice.

In other copyright infringement news coming out of Germany, the Supreme Court here further pared the legal responsibilities of Internet users when it ruled yesterday that parents are not liable if their adult children use the family Internet connection for file sharing.

The ruling follows a 2012 decision that held parents are not liable for their minor's file sharing, as long as they warned their child that unauthorized downloading and sharing of copyrighted material online is illegal and they were unaware their child violated this prohibition.

The owner of a broadband connection should be able to let his adult family members use the Internet without having to teach them first or monitor their behavior, the court said.