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Dear Frau Streber

Frau Streber’s expat survival guide to illegal downloads

Frau Streber is here to answer all your Berlin expat queries in our new advice column. This time, getting caught downloading illegally.

Our resident Besserwisser answers your questions on how to thrive in the Hauptstadt like a real German.

Dear ‘Frau Streber’, I downloaded a computer game illegally and the next thing I knew, I got a €2000 fine from the company that owns the game. Later, they sent another letter with additional evidence (including my IP address) and added another €500 in lawyer costs. Is there any way to fight this? – Gamer got ‘got’

Dear reader, 

Getting mail in German is terrifying, isn’t it? Anyway, don’t panic: even though this letter looks utterly bone-chilling, it’s unlikely you’ll go to court over an illegal download. While these letters look super official, they’re not being sent by the government but by private companies. This means that the fees are not fixed by law and you can challenge them.

It’s critical to avoid signing legal documents you don’t understand. Here, your signature will indicate that you admit guilt for the charge claimed. Being smacked with €500 in unwanted legal fees is certainly nicht geil – but, hey, it could always be worse: According to a 2013 Abmahnung (warning notice) law (known as a § 97a UrhG), unlucky torrenters in Germany can get additional charges of up to €1,000.

Copyright infringement scams are not uncommon

Check out the helpful website abmahnungshilfe.de/en from Einfach Legal Tech UG. This fully online resource is completely available in English, and will run your case by their team of legal experts. The best part? You only have to pay them if your case is successful (about 30 to 35 percent of the sum requested in the fine letter). I wouldn’t recommend simply ignoring the letter – while some people have managed to avoid the fine by doing this, it’s not a reliable strategy, and might make your situation worse.

Finally, while it sounds like you did illegally download something, copyright infringement scams are not uncommon. Keep your eye out for red flags, like if the letter is sent to you by email (they’re exclusively sent by post!), if it does not include a cease and desist letter (Unterlassung-serklärung), or if the bank account is not based in Germany. 

Do you have a question for expat-whisperer ‘Frau Streber’?