RedFaced: Thousands of Germans receive fines for watching copyrighted porn

A Swiss media agent sent up 30,000 letters to households asking viewers to pay hundreds of euros in fines.

Most likely causing untold embarrassment, between 20,000 and 30,000 German households have this month sent a legal warning after residents allegedly watched copyrighted pornographic films via the website RedTube.com

The letters asked for recipients to pay a €250 fine to the Swiss media agent that claims to hold the copyright for titles including: Amanda’s Secret, Miriam’s Adventure, and Glamour Show Girls.

It was originally thought that the letters were sent because of a court error. However, Thomas Urmann of the legal firm U+C told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that they plan to investigate more infringements on porn streaming sites next year, a move that would set a worldwide precedent.

He added: “Redtube was more like a test balloon”.

Streaming sites have until now been able to avoid copyright law as no copy of the original work is created.

But the Bavarian law firm which specialises in file-sharing cases says that watching videos on sites such as Redtube can qualify as a proliferation of copyrighted material as a small copy of the file is created in the memory of the viewer’s computer.

Urmann said that thousands of recipients have replied, including the angry partners of viewers. “Most of the conversations, however, have been very factual and businesslike,” he said.

The copyright lawyer Christian Solmecke said that there was “no legal basis” for the fines, and that it was possible that U+C may have broken the law themselves.

“It is hard to imagine how the IP addresses of the users could have been obtained on a legal basis,” Solmecke told the Guardian.

He added that the Cologne state court that handed out the IP addresses of viewers to the law firm did so by mistakenly believing that RedTube.com was a file-sharing website like BitTorrent.

Research by the website heise.de further complicates the situation by showing recipients were re-directed to the copyrighted clips without their knowledge, in what the site calls a “computer scam”.

Solmecke said he had received thousands of calls from people unsure of whether they should pay the fine or not.

“Most of them remember having accessed RedTube.com in the past, though none of them had very clear recollections about the titles and storylines of the films they had watched,” Solmecke said.

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