Disclaimer: Live Work Germany does not condone piracy. Artists and copyright holders should be supported, and piracy is illegal in Germany. The following guide is solely for information purposes.
If you want to download or stream copyrighted material in Germany, then beware!
While it’s of course technically possible to do so, piracy in Germany could land you with a heavy fine.
Illegal torrent and streaming sites are accessible in Germany. However, your ISP will know if you visit them. Workarounds like a VPN can only go so far, and fines for online piracy can exceed €1000 if you get caught! So it’s best to play it safe.
In this article, we’ll explain Germany’s legal stance on piracy, outline the consequences if you get caught, and explore your options for streaming videos safely.
Is streaming in Germany legal?
Official, paid streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime are available in Germany. These are totally above board, and of course there’s no risk associated with them (other than the risk of binge-watching all of Breaking Bad in 10 days straight).
Using unofficial sites like the Pirate Bay or Putlocker for downloading or streaming in Germany, on the other hand, is considered piracy therefore illegal.
However, the risks vary based on how exactly you go about this, and there are some popular workarounds.
Let’s look at these in more detail, and ask if it’s really worth the risk.
What’s the difference between streaming and torrenting services in Germany?
Torrent sites are a popular way to download movies and TV shows. The main draw here is that these allow you to download and keep a copy of whatever it is you want to watch.
And this is exactly what makes torrenting by far the riskiest option.
When you download using a torrent client like BitTorrent, the file is broken up into small pieces, which are then sent to you individually before being recompiled. And it’s this process that makes torrenting so risky.
Remember, nothing you do online is private. If this highly conspicuous – and often lengthy – transfer process gets noticed, you may well find yourself in trouble.
Copyright infringement is big business for lawyers in Germany.
Video Streaming Sites
Video streaming sites like Putlocker aggregate copyrighted content from other platforms and allow you to watch it for free. Albeit often in lower quality and with regular interruptions for ads.
This is considered illegal in Germany.
However, it is – generally – considered safer than torrenting. This is because it’s much harder to track. VPNs are only so effective here, so it really depends on which VPN you’re using.
NordVPN is a well established, reliable VPN provider who keeps no logs of your activity online.
That’s because they’re headquartered in Panama, meaning that under their jurisdiction, they are not mandated to store connection timestamps, session information, bandwidth usage, traffic data, IP addresses, or other data. Unlike in (for example) the US, they don’t store or share your browsing data with anyone.
And because no permanent files are being stored on your computer, this combo makes it the least risky option.
However, there are still risks. No illegal option should ever be considered “safe” from facing the consequences.
Note on 2017 change in law
Before 2017, if someone logged onto (or hacked into) your wifi and then pirated content using your IP address, you would be legally responsible for that.
Happily this is no longer the case, thanks to a change of law in 2017.
That said, we can only imagine that proving who exactly broke the law on your internet connection, and when, is definitely a heachache you’d prefer to avoid.
What you need to know about streaming laws in Germany
How will they know who I am?
As discussed above, whenever you download a file online, your IP address is visible.
The copyright holders i.e. those who sell or distribute movies, music, TV shows etc, hire law firms to monitor torrents, and collect the IP addresses of anyone downloading their copyrighted content.
Using your IP address, these law firms can then ask your internet service provider (ISP) to give them your name and address.
What are the fines for streaming / torrenting in Germany?
Once a law firm has your address, they can post you a formal request to pay a fine.
These fines commonly range from 500€ to 1500€.
Not a nice thing to find in your letterbox!
If you don’t want to pay, you can hire a lawyer to contest the fine. In the best case scenario, this could reduce the amount you have to pay to around 300€.
However, you do then also have to pay your lawyer. And lawyers are extremely expensive in Germany, with standard fees set at a whopping €190 per hour!
In general, it’s much wiser to not get caught in the first place by sticking to the safer options.
Safely Streaming in Germany
Beware of “safe” streaming sites
As mentioned above, video streaming is generally considered to be safer than torrenting, as no files are ever downloaded to your computer.
This means there’s no way you could distribute the content to anyone else, and therefore there’s less grounds for a legal challenge.
However, not all streaming sites are safe!
Beware of sites like Popcorntime.
These look like a streaming site, but are actually a BitTorrent client in disguise.
While you stream a video on these sites, it is actually being saved to your cache and distributed to other people as a torrent.
Which is much more risky in terms of visibility, and much clearer grounds for a hefty fine should you get caught.
Streaming with a VPN
As we mentioned above, VPNs allow you to browse the internet anonymously, by hiding your IP address.
Using a VPN is perfectly legal in Germany.
While it’s true that using a VPN makes it much harder for outside agencies to track your online activity, using a VPN does not suddenly make illegal activity legal.
VPNs can be flawed, or can simply stop working sometimes.
If you’re mid-download when your VPN fails, you could still get caught with your hand in the content cookie jar.
So, while a service such as NordVPN is the least risky, in that it doesn’t share any of your data with anybody, it will not be a 100% guarantee that you won’t get caught. Nothing is ever completely failsafe.
Is there a truly safe way to stream for free?
While it’s true that some illegal options are less risky than others, it’s much less stressful – and much safer – to simply watch content online via the legal channels.
How to stream legally in Germany
However, if you access these sites in Germany, you might be disappointed.
The German versions of sites like Netflix often lack familiar options, and aren’t ideal for non-German speakers.
This is especially true on Amazon Video, where – bafflingly – even English language TV shows like Fargo are only available in their German-dubbed form.
But there is a solution to this…
How to use a VPN with official streaming sites
With a VPN you can ‘trick’ websites into thinking you’re from another country.
This will dramatically expand your options for legal streaming in Germany.
You could, for example, access US Amazon Prime, which has a much larger selection of homegrown US content. Or you could access BBC iPlayer from anywhere in the world.
Or, you know. Go wild. Experiment with Danish Netflix or something. The options are endless.
If you don’t like the sound of using a VPN, then there are other legal options available.
We have a dedicated guide which covers all your best (legal) options for watching English-language television in Germany, beyond just streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime content from your home country.
Conclusion – Piracy is a slippery issue
Downloading and streaming in Germany, as in much of the world, is a slippery issue.
On one hand, it is definitely illegal.
On the other, almost everyone seems to do it, and most people get away with it.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you how much risk you want to take. But we’d recommend you stay on the right side of the law.
The legally available options aren’t going to break the bank in most cases, and they generally provide content faster, easier, and in better quality.
We hope that with this short summary we have given you an overview of the risks, to allow you to make your own informed decision.
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