Panic spread across Germany last month when an estimated 10,000 Internet users received threatening letters from a lawfirm acting on behalf of porn producers.
The alleged offenses apparently took place on RedTube, a streaming video site which from a technical viewpoint is not unlike YouTube. With no uploading taking place, how did the copyright holders obtain the IP addresses of alleged offenders when RedTube insists nothing was handed over?
With that still a mystery and RedTube outraged at this attack on their users, in December the company obtained an injunction to halt the trolls in their tracks. However, an important question still remained unanswered. Is merely viewing a copyrighted stream without permission illegal under current law?
With the controversy storming on the question was posed to the German Government and the Ministry of Justice has just delivered its opinion. The Ministry concludes that the mere viewing of a copyrighted stream without permission is not in itself an act of copyright infringement.
This opinion puts the Government completely at odds with the adult companies behind the thousands of cash settlement letters sent out last year. It also draws a line in the sand between streaming (legal) and regular downloads (illegal).
According to the Ministry of Justice’s opinion the watching of illicit movies on a browser-based streaming site now appears to be permissible (temporary copy), whereas downloading a movie which is stored on a hard drive for later viewing (reproduction) remains illegal.
However, the question of streaming legality is one yet to be decided in Germany’s highest court, and according to the Government the definitive ruling will arrive from outside its borders.
“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, adding that the question will ultimately be answered by the European Court of Justice.
In the meantime the announcement will be welcomed by thousands of RedTube users who should be further emboldened not to hand over their hard earned cash.