Germany's Infamous Copyright Warning Letters May Be Reined In — In A Few Years' Time

from the always-look-on-the-bright-side dept

Germany has figured on Techdirt on a number of occasions because of the widespread use of warning letters there, sent out in large numbers in connection with alleged copyright infringement, and usually including a demand for money. Back in April 2013, the German digital rights group Digitale Gesellschaft (Digiges) contacted the European Commission in order to draw its attention to the misuse of warning letters, which it said were in contravention of safeguards contained in the relevant European legislation. Here’s the background, as explained by the digital rights association EDRi:

Digiges pointed out that in Germany, IPRED [the EU’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Directive] had led to a situation which allowed rightsholders to acquire personal data of the users directly from the providers. All they needed for that was the IP-address of an alleged infringer and an application to a court that would order the provider to hand over the requested information. While this option was originally meant to facilitate the realisation of damages and injunctive relief, the whole process in fact became more and more automated over time. The requests from rightsholders usually comprised between 15 and 3 500 IP-addresses at a time. In one single case in October 2009, the number even reached a breathtaking 11 000. Given the fact that the court proceedings in these cases are always summary or expedited ones, it becomes clear that there is hardly any chance for a judge to thoroughly check the validity and accuracy of the “evidence” presented by the rightsholder.

In its letter, Digiges argued that the situation created by the German implementation of IPRED violates EU law, and asked the European Commission to do something about it. It did: in October 2013, it invited representatives to Brussels to explain their case further. After further correspondence with Digiges, more than one and a half years after the initial letter was sent, the Commission has finally decided to take the first step towards an infringement procedure against Germany:

The Commission officially prompted the German government to comment on the German situation around warning letters within ten weeks.

Heady stuff. EDRi points out that any practical effect of the Commission taking up this case is likely to be very slow to arrive:

The German government is expected to delay their answer to the Commission as long as possible. Once it has arrived, the Commission will have 10 weeks to evaluate the government?s reply. An ensuing judicial infringement procedure might take up to two years and will be repeated if the member state in question fails to comply with the ruling of the court.

So, realistically, we are looking at over four years before Germany actually has to do anything serious like changing its law here. But EDRi tries to look on the bright side, concluding its post as follows:

it is still unclear if and when Germany will change its laws facilitating the abuse of warning letters. But an important step towards the first infringement procedure with a net-political twist has been taken.

That’s the spirit.

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Comments on “Germany's Infamous Copyright Warning Letters May Be Reined In — In A Few Years' Time”

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11 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Misplaced politeness

The German government is expected to delay their answer to the Commission as long as possible. Once it has arrived, the Commission will have 10 weeks to evaluate the government’s reply. An ensuing judicial infringement procedure might take up to two years and will be repeated if the member state in question fails to comply with the ruling of the court.

Ya gotta love the double standards here. I’m pretty sure if I received an order, or even request from a court, and I decided to put it off and/or ignore it, the court would be rather firm with me(to put it lightly), and almost certainly wouldn’t give me a second chance unless I provided a damn good reason for my failure to comply.

Here, the German government is not only expected to drag their feet the whole way, but they’ll even apparently get several chances to comply, with, unless I missed something, absolutely zero penalty if they decide not to do so.

Oh yes, all the parties involved are ever so interested in tackling this problem in a timely manner, and ensuring that more innocent people aren’t thrown into the meat-grinder of copyright extortion. /s

Anonymous Coward says:

Meh...

Those letters have become very common here in Germany. If you get one of those then you Google a few mins and find various versions of preprinted letters that you can send back. They give or take all include that you dont pay anything but wont do it again.

I myself got one of those letters saying I downloaded a movie via torrent and they wanted some hundred Euro. I never use torrent so I just wrote back that it wasn’t me and asked in detail how they came to the conclusion that the IP belonged to me at the time and how they found that IP in the first place. Never heard of them again (the way they find IPs is a company secret so they cant tell).

On the other hand in one case a law firm(in the name of a copyright holder) sent out letters because people allegedly watched copyrighted pron. That lawyer now lost his license and further legal actions are on the way.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Isn’t copyright wonderful?
Giving them this unfettered access has totally crushed copyright infringement and lead to a golden age of German film & culture.
Oh wait…

Secret systems given the power to act as judge, jury, debt collector undermine the actual system that is in place.
Allowing them to collect on accusation alone with “evidence” that can not be questioned perverts the laws that are in place.
Perhaps it is time the people point out to their elected officials that they are supposed to correct any flaws in the system rather than just give one side everything they demand.

I have a very good feeling that if the law were adapted to the reality of todays market & consumers rather than a bygone era, they would get content into consumers hands at the time, format & price the consumer wanted. This would end much of the infringement. It is impossible and stupid to think that it can ever be completely stopped and rather wasting more time and law chasing an impossible goal, perhaps removing the rewards that allow them to ignore consumer demands might make them deal with today not 150 years ago.

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