Ann-Sophie Butenschön

University of Hamburg

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We all know this feeling: Some good show nearly comes to an end, but a friend of yours says that one more season exists and is out there waiting for you. You’re searching through massive online archives of shows, movies and podcasts because nearly everything is available after a few days.

But what exactly is the difference between using sites like Netflix and Movie4k?

First of all we have to ask ourselves who the permission has to upload copyrighted content on streaming platforms. How come that Netflix only has 4 seasons of the Brooklyn 99 and bs.to has all 5 of them?

The answer is: Not every person/company has the right to make streaming material legal and public to others.

The person who distributes different shows and stuff has the only right to make his ‘’piece of art’’ legal and can choose whom to show. If he wants his material distributed, he contacts sites like Netflix and Prime so they will purchase this right from the original distributer. After this step, the platforms are legally protected of copyright accusation and can show everybody the material they now own.

However, what is this ‘’streaming’’ all about?

Whenever you watch a movie or a show on your computer, a small part of it will be downloaded into computers cache, also called temporary storage. So technically if you don’t have the right of the owner to watch his material, you are violating the law.  The right to publicize the material only has the distributer himself, claims the §15 Para.2 of the UrhG. But if the German law would be this picky to accuse everybody watching football streams and other e.g. educational series online, everybody could be sued for doing something illegal.

That’s the point where our second important paragraph occurs, the right of duplicating the material (§16 Para.1 UrhG). Only the real distributer has this right, because otherwise he would not gain any profit with setting it free to everybody. Creators of streaming websites distributing those films are hereby ignoring the law and can be sentenced for committing a crime as we all heard before in the news. But does that make the user of these websites commit a crime as well?

The answer is temporarily ‘’no’’, unclear of recent statements of the EuGH (European Court of justice, located in Luxembourg).

The user technically is also violating the law through downloading the movie step by step on his cache, which violates the contract with the distributer not to duplicate his work. However, people are lawfully allowed to duplicate someone’s work for their own purpose and use (§53 Para.1 Se.1 UrhG).

To clear it all up, people are having many opinions about this topic and are arguing constantly. Until April of 2017 only the operators of illegal streaming platforms feared accusations of production studios and Co. Now with the EuGH stepping in and founding everyone to be guilty no matter if he is a user or not, streaming has been more illegal than ever before. So, we better swap from our illegal websites to something serious like Prime & Co, not just for lawfully covering ourselves, but also for giving something back to the ones spending millions of dollars to produce something made for us viewers, the most important part of the modern Film & TV production scene.

Let’s get back to the original thesis: Should we ban websites presenting video material they do not own? The answer is hard to tell because of the two given aspects: lawfully and socially. Judicial it should immediately be forbidden, because too many laws are being violated through illegal streaming. Nevertheless, the EuGH is discussing this topic, so it must have some importance to the online community and their laws.

Socially seen, it is a huge enrichment for everyone watching series online and particularly catching up on series which are not displayed on e.g. Netflix or Amazon Prime. Also, viewers which are watching e.g. Anime series coming from Japan, Korea or other Asian countries must wait month or years to watch a new series, because of the time passing between synchronizing the voices and selling it to English speaking distribution companies. Nowadays everything is getting expensive, so more and more people are willing to use illegal websites.

However, the conclusion is, yes, these websites should be illegal. No matter how much money you could conserve through using streaming, film production still costs millions of dollars and making movies highly depends on the viewers paying for watching or owning it. Netflix and co. are priced platforms, but the prices you will have to pay are more than affordable nowadays, so that should not be an existing problem.