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Thousands of Germans Threatened With €250 Fines For Streaming Porn 192

Posted by samzenpus
from the paying-the-price dept.
PolygamousRanchKid writes "Thousands of German users that have used a porn website to stream shows have received threatening letters from a local law firm demanding €250 ($344) per certain watched clips, Chip.de reports. Apparently, a Swiss-based firm that owns the content hosted by porn site Redtube has tasked a law firm with collecting fines for each of its shows that was streamed online in the region. The law firm has apparently received a go ahead from a local court, and as many as ten thousand warnings may have been set to users, for porn shows watched in August."
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Thousands of Germans Threatened With €250 Fines For Streaming Porn

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  • Oh Dear. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:33AM (#45668219)

    I'd better cross Germany off the list countries to live in.

    • Can't blame you, considering that the folks doing the harassing are Swiss (and thus not even based in an EU member nation, so even that can't be used as an excuse).

      Out of morbid curiosity - who uploaded the content, and why isn't the law firm chasing that guy? Oh, nevermind... bigger (and TBH, more reliable) revenue stream from chasing the poor horny bastards who sucked down the content instead.

      Lesson for the folks in Germany... proxies are your friend.

      • Re:Oh Dear. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by meerling (1487879) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @04:27AM (#45668571)
        I remember seeing an article a while ago talking about distribution of media and technologies. Porn and Redtube specifically were mentioned. Apparently sites like Redtube are used by the media copyright owners to upload clips of their products for publicity. It's kind of like a movies trailers site for porn. So I have to wonder if this troll even has the proper authority to make such claims of redress, and if the clips they're targeting (if specified) were uploaded by the owners or not.

        I don't know if Redtube really is a clip site, or it it's something more. I pretty much assume that porn sites are loaded with malware, but who knows.

        By the way, as I've seen it mentioned that the troll lied to the judge and told them it was a p2p site, I wouldn't put any underhanded or illegal thing outside the realm of what they'd do.
      • Re:Oh Dear. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by somersault (912633) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @06:29AM (#45668949) Homepage Journal

        Out of morbid curiosity - who uploaded the content, and why isn't the law firm chasing that guy?

        There's a possibility that the porn company uploaded it themselves, just so that they could execute this plan.

        Th **AA have been caught doing similar things, so it's not unprecedented.

        Of course it's very possible that a normal user uploaded them too.

        • There's a possibility that the porn company uploaded it themselves, just so that they could execute this plan.

          Sounds like Prenda Law, but these guys are not asking as much, and so are more likely to get paid off than fought in court.

          • by jandrese (485)
            Yeah, it's exactly the same business model. Gather IP addresses from a porn sight, then send mass requests to the ISPs to get their home addresses, then send them extortion letters. In the US we had some judges that were less than friendly to being a pawn in an extortion racket, and now Prenda is in a tremendous amount of hot water. Hopefully the German judge has a similar reaction.
        • by gbjbaanb (229885)

          I read elsewhere that some users were sent shortened links that took them to the redtube video, so they didn't even know it was going to be porn until they got there.

          It does smack of a scam - a bit like me claiming these words are copyright and if you read them, you owe me loadsamoney. Which you now do, of course. Please send a cheque.

    • Re:Oh Dear. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by crabel (1862874) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @04:41AM (#45668613)
      Not so fast. First of all, the lawyers "cheated". They avoided the term "streaming" in their applications to court and made it look like a typical filesharing case. The courts granted most of their applications because of "unbefugtem öffentlichen Zugänglichmachen über eine sogenannte Tauschbörse" that means "unauthorized sharing of files through a file sharing network". German internet law blogger Thomas Stadler explains in his blog, why their applications are invalid (for various reasons). German link: http://www.internet-law.de/2013/12/warum-die-streaming-abmahnungen-der-rechtsanwaelte-uc-unwirksam-sind.html [internet-law.de]
      • by orzetto (545509)

        unbefugtem öffentlichen Zugänglichmachen über eine sogenannte Tauschbörse

        That translates to "having made publicly available without authorisation over a so-called exchange forum". The key is "Zugänglichmachen", i.e. they must upload something in order to be prosecutable.

        When I lived in Germany, I remember colleagues telling me of acquaintances who received similar letters (for generic filesharing, typically movies), who then caved in and paid. This is however not so common and no on

      • by LoRdTAW (99712)

        I bet the content creator is hoping that a bunch of the "infringers" pay up before the suit is tossed and they walk away with a few hundred grand. 10,000 * 250 EUR is about 3.44 million USD. Even if a tenth of the users pay and the lawyers take a third then they stand to make about a quarter million. And that is taking into account a single 250 EUR charge per defendant.

    • I'd cross Germany off because of the whole church collecting income tax thing

      • by compro01 (777531)

        If you don't want to pay the tithe, just ditch the religion.

    • by alexo (9335)

      Going at this rate, do you have any countries left on your list?

  • Bahahahahaha (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:35AM (#45668225)

    It should tell you something when a business decides that 10,000 of its consumers are criminals. Your business model is broken, you can sue all you like but it still wont fix what's really broken.

    • Re:Bahahahahaha (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dr Max (1696200) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @03:50AM (#45668461)
      It should tell you something when mearly going to a website and viewing something can make you a criminal. It's not like torrenting where you can argue that by downloading, you're also uploading to others; they just went to a site and pressed play. If a music station forgot to pay for a songs royalty, would the record label be able to sue anyone listening to that station at the time? What if a billboard had an unauthorised copyrighted image on it, is every motorist going past it going to get a letter and a fine?
      • by 3247 (161794)

        It should tell you something when mearly going to a website and viewing something can make you a criminal. It's not like torrenting where you can argue that by downloading, you're also uploading to others; they just went to a site and pressed play.

        German courts kann tell the difference. No joking, that's what happened.

        • So they can also tell the difference between butter and I can't believe it ain't butter?

          I doubt the German court even understood what it ruled over, to be honest. I know their technical experience quite well, and I wouldn't trust the average judge to know more than how to press play to watch some porn. But he probably needs a bailiff for that too, he usually does when he needs to watch some kind of evidence on a computer...

        • Heh--German joke :)

          http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/k%C3%B6nnen [wiktionary.org]

      • The true analogy would be: Would you, as a judge, allow listeners to a pirate radio station (not certain if the listeners know it's a pirate station or not) to get sued by the record companies for loyalties. The site that was streaming the content most likely was aware of the fact that they were streaming content they did not have rights for.and that's malicious intent.
      • Unless there are no legal streaming porn sites, it seems that there is no way for a user to know if the content that they are viewing / downloading is legal. It is the equivalent of being arrested for buying stolen property when you purchased it off the shelf at a standard retail store.

        If the material were obviously stolen, things would be different, but that is not the case. The streaming sites present adds, and therefore have a plausible business model. It is also a reasonable business model that porn pro

    • Re:Bahahahahaha (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @04:35AM (#45668593) Homepage

      That *is* their business model.
      I read up on this yesterday (German Language) [spiegel.de] and the situation is more complicated than it seems.
      The providers affected are all over Germany, so various local courts were involved. The one in Köln really screwed things up: what the people are supposed to have done is Downloaded the file(s), what they were accused of was Sharing them and Köln went along with this. The difference is that the provider does not have to give out addresses on Downloads but they do if Sharing is involved. The actual "Abmahnung" letters which went out said nothing about Sharing at all. The Law Firm based their claim on the Downloads being in Cache so they were available for others. To make things worse, the largest provider in Germany (T-Online) is based in Köln. Other courts rejected that argument, others asked questions and the Lawyers withdrew their request.

      I have a related problem at the moment - a couple of years ago someone accused me of sharing some other porno film, again T-Online was involved. My wlan is wpa2 with a 63-byte random, generated mixed upper/lower string and it accepts only one Mac address, I have checked both PCs which were on at the time for Trojans / Virii with a bootable scanner and there was nothing. Under German law there is no redress - if they claim it then I must have done it. I'm fighting this one out at the moment.

      For me this is a reason not to use T-Online. My main account is now somewhere else but I *need* Internet for when I work at home and two independent providers (Cable and DSL) made sense back when the Cable provider was unreliable. I think I'm going to have to dump T-Online which means dumping Telekom for my phone.

      • It appears that T-Online linked an IP in a subpoena to you. But 1) Was that the actual IP address at that time that was used to share that film? 2) Was that IP address actually assigned to your system? Mistakes are easy, I'm assuming you already asked for a full list of all IP addresses assigned to your connection for a full year before and after this incident took place with *all* log file entries they have on you? Any inconsistency or missing/improbable timestamp in that will help you proof that they don'
      • by MrL0G1C (867445)

        Are you aware that some trackers give out fake IP addresses to foil those who try to attack the working of the torrent. If all the company has against you is a time and an IP address then they don't have enough - insufficient evidence. The company has to prove that two-way communications happened between your computer and another sharing the files, not the 1-way communication which is ip-address only aka fake.

      • by MrL0G1C (867445)

        That is worthy of a counter-lawsuit, if you were to crowd-fund one, I'd gladly chip in. Counter lawsuits need to happen more often because it seems that these cases of extortion are happening more often, probably because of the insane statutory damages payouts awarded in the USA.

      • I have a related problem at the moment - a couple of years ago someone accused me of sharing some other porno film, again T-Online was involved. My wlan is wpa2 with a 63-byte random, generated mixed upper/lower string and it accepts only one Mac address, I have checked both PCs which were on at the time for Trojans / Virii with a bootable scanner and there was nothing.

        Did you have WPS enabled on your router? If so, there is a vulnerability that can crack access to your router, even if you are using WPA2:

        https://code.google.com/p/reaver-wps/ [google.com]

    • by Chrisq (894406)

      It should tell you something when a business decides that 10,000 of its consumers are criminals.

      But i'm a drub baron you insensitive clod!

  • by asmkm22 (1902712) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:36AM (#45668229)

    Shouldn't the company be going after the porn site that streamed it? Anyone know why a German court would OK this?

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:44AM (#45668269) Homepage

      It's much harder to shame a pornsite into paying €2.500.000 damages than it is to shame 10.000 people into paying €250.
      I don't know about Germany, but it some european countries, just downloading something isn't illegal.
      But a court case doesn't have to have merit if the damage they can do (publically shaming somebody by exposing their sexual tastes) and lawyer fees required to defend are much greater than the $250 blackmail money asked for.

      Personally, I'm wondering how this law firm got the contact addresses.

      • by the_other_chewey (1119125) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @03:00AM (#45668303)

        I don't know about Germany, but it some european countries, just downloading something isn't illegal.

        It isn't illegal in Germany as well. Pretty much all lawyers except the ones sending the letters
        think those letters to be a hilarious. They all advise to ignore the letters and wait to be taken to
        court (which almost certainly will never happen).
        Sadly, it will probably scare enough people into paying to nonetheless be profitable.

        Personally, I'm wondering how this law firm got the contact addresses.

        Well-informed speculation is that they used ad tracking on redtube to get IP addresses (external
        ad servers see the request IP and the referer string...).

        Then they tricked the courts into assuming distribution on behalf of said IP to get a court order for
        the client's identity. I'm not exaggerating: The court filings very carefully avoid the word "streaming"
        and imply downloading and P2P distribution without actually saying so.

        Only about two thirds of the courts actually fell for it, but each one was good for thousands of identities.

        • by AHuxley (892839)
          Yes thats the fun part, how where the ip's in one jurisdiction found?
        • by Kickasso (210195) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @03:51AM (#45668467)

          Use an ad blocker, kids.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) * <mojo@woCURIErld3.net minus physicist> on Thursday December 12, 2013 @03:59AM (#45668493) Homepage

          Isn't deliberately misleading the court itself an offense?

          • by garry_g (106621) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @04:19AM (#45668545)

            That's another point of criticism - while P2P or download is a deliberate action, leading to local storage of files, streaming videos from a free site that is not by definition a pirate site makes it near impossible for users to know they are breaking copyright laws ...
            Which is why the letters to the court left out the word "streaming" - for streaming, no court order would have been issued (most likely, anyway). Which, in turn, should get the lawyer knowingly misleading the court disbarred or at least fined ...

            • by wvmarle (1070040)

              What defines a pirate site, then? How can I tell? And if a site sells subscriptions for access to the latest movies, it must be legal, right?

              How are users to tell whether the site has their copyrights in order, or not?

              Downloading is legal in many European countries, and it should be. Someone offers you the material, implying they have the proper rights to distribute it to you (either streaming or as download), so you should be safe.

        • Only about two thirds of the courts actually fell for it, but each one was good for thousands of identities.

          And the one third which didn't fall for it didn't think about warning the other 2 thirds? Amazing...

          Almost as bad as when a Luxembourgish bank [www.bcee.lu] deployed broken Luxtrust software, and 6 weeks later another bank [www.post.lu] deployed the exact same bug... (and that long after a fixed version of the software had already been made by Luxtrust). Amazingly they don't communicate with each other...

          To the second bank's credit: at least they were faster to deploy the fix, taking only 9 months, rather than the 18 months that the

      • Personally, I'm wondering how this law firm got the contact addresses.

        Odds are perfect they chased IP addys, combined them with date+time stamps, then got the ISPs to help them out in that regard; it's pretty much the only way they could get much of anything like that. Now whether the ISPs helped out due to some German equivalent of the DMCA (or suchlike) or were paid to? Dunno...

        • by Sique (173459) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @03:12AM (#45668353) Homepage
          It was helped by a gross misrepresentation of facts before the court: Suggesting distribution while never explicitely saying so. For about 1/4 of the letters requesting the court to allow for identification of the persons behind the list of IP addresses, the requests were denied due to missing evidence. 3/4 nevertheless were agreed on, and there is much speculation going on if the court has messed up downloading and distribution, helped by a very wishi-washi formulated letter of request.
          • by garry_g (106621)

            The interesting part also is that all the requests were sent to the same court, which in turn had multiple internal offices handle the requests ... so, as usual, interpreting the law once again differs between the people ...

          • I don't know if your 1/4 and 3/4 figures are correct, but the problem was that the Court in Köln rubber-stamped this crap and that T-Online (the largest provider in Germany) is based in Köln.

            • by Sique (173459)
              As far as I know, of the 89 requests, 27 were denied. This is is somewhere between 1/4 and 1/3.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:54AM (#45668293)

      This techdirt article from a couple of years ago [techdirt.com] suggests a precedent was set then that viewing a streaming file is considered to be making a copy of it, and therefore the viewers are also liable for copyright infringement. Stupid, but this is sometimes what happens when old laws are applied to scenarios they weren't intended for and the court doesn't have enough room to manoeuvre out of it. I don't read German well enough to look at the decision and see whether it suggests that the court tried to find a way around a badly phrased law, or if they were just being vindictive, but it seems likely enough that they tried and failed.

    • by fazig (2909523) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @03:17AM (#45668367)
      According to more recent reports (German) [golem.de] the Court was fooled by this alleged law firm. They've presented the incident to the court as peer to peer file-sharing of copyright protected data, the Court ruled accordingly.
    • Because of two things: The average German judge doesn't know jack about technology and the law company abused that ignorance.

      They said "download" in their lawsuit and the judge went "Oh, it's that where the higher courts decided for the plaintiff, like that Pirate Bay thing, so I guess I should, too".

  • Oh Germany (Score:5, Informative)

    by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:36AM (#45668235) Homepage Journal

    The status of German copyright laws is ridiculous. Any law firm can send out threatening letters, literally saying "pay us X Euros or we will take you to court". It's like the Mob.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

      That's the case in most countries. You can threaten to she fir any reason and even go to court. The victim has to turn up and get it thrown out or face losing to a default judgement.

    • by pantaril (1624521)

      The status of copyright laws anywhere is ridiculous. Any law firm can send out threatening letters, literally saying "pay us X currency units or we will take you to court". It's like the Mob.

      There, FTFY

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      You mean, they can't and won't do anything like that elsewhere, like in the USA?

  • They're serious? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm lost here, isn't the company behind this 'Redtube' website legally responsible for copyright infringement, and all resultant penalties, instead of the individual viewers?

    • Re:They're serious? (Score:4, Informative)

      by gweihir (88907) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @05:56AM (#45668829)

      The courts were tricked: The lawyers made it look like this was about file-sharing, and there the upload part can make you liable for distribution in Germany.
      But there are some other peculiarities, namely how they go the IP addresses. It seems they may have gotten illegally or via fake ads on the site itself. That would then not prove anybody streamed anything. It may also be illegal to state people streamed to a court when there is no proof anybody streamed anything. Almost certainly some employee of some "piracy analysis" company committed perjury.

      Bottom line is that this will hopefully cost the layers involved their accreditation and make them liable for legal cost of the ones targeted. Fees are unfortunately capped and so low that this will not pay off. The total damage is only about $15, the rest is lawyers fees.Incidentally, sending out these "Abmahnungen" en-mass, but claiming full legal fees on each (instead $5 or so) is also illegal, but a court has to determine these are mass-produced. (An "Abmahnung" is basically a form of legalized fraud by threatening people and demanding fees that only lawyers are allowed to commit. One more reason to hate that profession...)

      The consent in the German legal community seems to be that these people got greedy and stupid and will fail. Problem is that if anybody pays, the fees goes directly to Switzerland (instead to the lawyers) and will there fore be hard or impossible to recover, as Switzerland is not part of the EU.

  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:50AM (#45668285) Homepage

    Three links of possible interest, concerning "The Archive AG" - mostly in German:

    Company information [moneyhouse.ch]

    Article in the Handelszeitung [handelszeitung.ch]

    Web site [the-archive.ch]

    The address appears (on Google maps) to be more than just a mailbox. The two people running it are Germans - it's not clear why their company is in Switzerland. Downloading in Switzerland is legal, by the way, justified by the fact that we all pay these surcharges on empty media.

    For anyone who has been threatened by The Archive AG, the article in the Handelszeitung includes a reference to an IT attorney who is apparently advising many people in this case.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 12, 2013 @02:52AM (#45668289)

    Sauerkrauts.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    According to a report on heise and some discussions by people who received those:Their browsers were made to connect to certain reddube.com (not rettube, mind you) urls by a skimmed traffic site. So Site A wants to earn some money from their site and Service X says: "Add a link to this image from us to your website, you don,t even have to place it somewhere visible!". Site A does so and whenever a user visits the site, the browser sends a request to servers from Service X which redirect then to Site B, whi

  • Seems it is a lawyer outfit or company trying to squeeze money from people by trying to embarrass them by maybe disclosing their name, address etc.
    There was one case apparently where a person got a court order to stop it for her.

    There are a lot of open questions - court seemed to mix up downloads with streaming and how the IP/name info etc. got created is another good question.
    What also seems to happen is that other crooks are sending fake cease and desist emails (or something like that) to catch a ride on
  • by xororand (860319) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @05:06AM (#45668677)

    It seems that the law firm got the IP addresses by running ads on RedTube
    There's an ongoing investigation and criminal complaint [golem.de] against the responsible lawyer Daniel Sebastian.

  • I know two things: First, the judge who made the decision has been conned by the weasel wording of the lawsuit. The lawyers must have known what they're doing. If you so consistently avoid mentioning that it's a streaming site and try to convince a court that it's a page similar to TPB, you won't be able to feign ignorance. You tried to cheat the court.

    Judges generally don't really like being had. They really hate it when they notice you try to trick them into ruling their way. I know that one too.

    Maybe it

  • This has happened before. Copyright infringement trolling is a very lucrative business in Germany. There have been cases of lawyers sending out thousands of letters demanding payments of over a thousand euros, of which about 75% consisted in legal fees. At the end virtually noboby was taken to court for this, but if only 10% of the recipients pays up (I'm guessing the number was higher though) it already means a very high ROI for simply doing a mass-mailing.

    It's also very lucrative for VPN providers, as
  • by IRWolfie- (1148617) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @06:34AM (#45668971)
    How did they get the IP addresses of people using a streaming website that they don't operate (and I doubt the records where handed over by this non-German website)?
  • "If your website doesn't remove all of my clients copyrighted material immediately, I won't sue you, I will sue all your clients." When the "I agree to view porn" box (ahem, I've been told one has to click to enter those sites) may soon become a EULA.

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