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Streaming does not breach copyright law

According to Spiegel Online, Germany’s Ministry of Justice has given its opinion on streaming, saying that it does not infringe German copyright law. The clarification comes after a huge wave of copyright infringement letters was sent by the law firm Urmann & Collegen before Christmas.

Ministry of Justice: Streaming does not breach copyright law ©-cirquedesprit-Fotolia
Ministry of Justice: Streaming does not breach copyright law ©-cirquedesprit-Fotolia

[IMPORTANT UPDATE as of May 2017] The information below reflects the previously valid legal approach to streaming. As part of a landmark judgment of May 2017, the European Court of Justice ruled that streaming of works protected by copyright is illegal as long as the original source is clearly illegal (ECJ, Case C-527/15). You can find the details about this latest judgment on streaming in our blog article at

Therefore, the text below may not reflect the current legal situation [END OF UPDATE]

Streaming warning letters

Before Christmas, the German law firm Urmann & Collegen caused anger when it sent a huge wave of copyright infringement letters to users of the website Redtube, a streaming website.

While the file sharing warning letter is big business in Germany, this wave of streaming warning letters was the first of its kind.

U+C sent thousands of warning letters demanding €250 compensation. The law firm’s legal view is based on the argument that during streaming a copy of the content is made in the computer’s cache and that this is illegal under German copyright law if the consent of the copyright holder has not been obtained.

Given the public outcry that followed, the Left Party (LINKE) together with a number of other German MPs sent a parliamentary question to the government requiring clarification of the legal position.

Relying on a pre-release document, Spiegel Online reports that the Ministry of Justice states that watching streaming platforms is not illegal. In justifying its position, the Ministry relies on § 53 and § 44a of the German Copyright Act (Urheberrechtsgesetz, UrhG).

Paragraph 53, allows private copies of copyright-protected material to be made, provided the source from which the copy is made is not clearly illegal. Paragraph 44a permits the copying of protected-works if the copy is to enable lawful use and is: (i) temporary or incidental, (ii) an integral and necessary technical measure and (iii) has no independent economic value.

German lawyer and partner at WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE, Christian Solmecke, commented, “I fully support the view taken by the Ministry of Justice. Our law firm has long held the opinion that streaming is legal”.

The Ministry of Justice points out in its statement, which has not yet been published, that the disputed legal position has not yet been clarified by the highest courts in Germany and that eventually the European Court of Justice may be called on for a preliminary ruling.

Although the legal debate concerning streaming is not yet settled, the Ministry of Justice’s opinion is a step in the right direction.

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