Germany Caps Piracy Fines

First-time copyright offenders will get off with a $200 warning.

COLOGNE, Germany – Germany has passed a controversial law that limits the fines copyright holders can demand from individuals using illegal file-sharing sites to download music, films or TV series.

The legislation limits individual claims to $1,300 ( €1,000), meaning the warning fine for a first-time offender, to cover legal expenses, would be capped at around $200 (€155).

The law is intended to stop the practice of collection firms and law practices sending out mass mailings demanding huge sums for individual copyright violations. A poll by the Federation of German Consumer Organizations found that some 4.3 million Germans, some of them as young as 14, have received such warnings, demanding an average of $1,000 (€800) per offense.

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“Some law firms have created a business model out of copyright-violation warnings. It has got out of control,” said Germany's Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger in an interview after the law passed.

Groups representing copyright holders, however, have warned the new law gives the wrong signal to consumers. Florian Drucke, managing director of the German Music Industry Association, said the legislation should not misunderstood as a “free ticket for illegal filesharing.”

Those on the opposite side of the debate say the new law is still open to abuse by copyright holders because it allows for tougher penalties in vaguely defined “special cases.”

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Still, the German law represents a defeat for copyright hardliners and stands in contrast to stepped up anti-piracy efforts elsewhere in Europe. In the U.K., for example, the police last week announced the creation of a broad new unit dedicated to cracking down on copyright crime.

The new legislation applies only to individual copyright violations. German authorities continue to have a low tolerance for the operators of illegal filesharing sites. In May, a German court has handed down one of the toughest-ever sentences for Internet piracy, convicting the 33-year-old operator of leading illegal German file-sharing site to 3 years and 10 months in prison for copyright infringement. The ruling came almost exactly a year after Dirk B., the founder of an even larger illegal site,, received a four and a half year prison sentence.