The county court of Hamburg, Germany, recently decided that claim values in file sharing cases involving private individuals must be restricted. The court relied on a recent amendment to German file sharing law which aims to stem the “file sharing madness” which has been seen in Germany as of late.
File sharing claim values
People who receive file sharing warning letters in Germany accusing them of breaching copyright law through the use of file sharing software often ask why the stated claim values are so high. The answer is simple: the higher the claim value, the more the opposition law firm can claim in legal expenses.
Many courts also apply this principle, which means that recipients of file sharing warning letters who decide to take the case to court often face high court fees too.
A typical case against an alleged file sharer came before the county court in Hamburg, a court which is notorious for applying high claim values; and the court decided to reconsider its position.
In an advisory opinion (24.07.2013, Az. 31a C 109/13), the court indicated that it considers a claim value of 1,000 euros to be proportional.
The court took the view that as file sharing is often undertaken for private and not for commercial purposes high claim values are generally not justified. It also added that, under § 97a of the German Copyright Act, recipients of warning letters are only obliged to reimburse legal costs which are proportional.
Copyright Act amended
Explaining its position on the proportionality of legal fees in file sharing cases, the court drew attention to a recent amendment to the German Copyright Act (UrhG). Under § 97a(3) UrhG and §46 of the Court Fees Act, legal fees in file sharing cases involving private individuals who were not acting on a commercial scale are restricted to €1,000.
The court decided that parliament intended for judges to use their discretion and bear this legal provision in mind immediately, even though the amendments are not yet legally effective.
The court announced that where it has already approved higher legal fees in current cases, those fees will no longer be valid. The court rejected the argument that this position breaches the principle under which new laws cannot be applied retrospectively. It argued that previous legal fee decisions were not based on codified law but on judges’ decisions which were starkly divergent.