Munich Court Says Piracy Sites Should Be Responsible for Copyright Damages

Tobias Hase/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
The higher regional court in Munich, Germany. 

A German court has ruled that file-sharing platforms that illegally distribute and exploit copyright-protected music, film and television are liable to pay damages to rights holders.

The ruling, which has potentially far-reaching consequences, came in a legal case between German collecting society GEMA and file-sharing service, operated by Swiss tech company Cyando AG. 

Although not legally binding, the Munich regional court decreed that pirate sites whose business models are based on copyright infringement should be made to pay damages if they do not prevent the upload and distribution of copyright-protected material.

As part of its prosecution case, GEMA was able to demonstrate to judges that had not only failed to remove large numbers of illegal files, but, by its design and application, increased the likelihood of copyright infringement. As an “accomplice” in the distribution of pirated content, the court ruled that Uploaded should assume its responsibility.

“Their ruling confirms that file-sharing hosts play a significant role in the proliferation of music piracy,” said Dr. Tobias Holzmüller, GEMA’s General Counsel, welcoming the court’s decision.

“Online service providers have previously only been obliged to remove contents infringing copyright from their platforms. By pronouncing the liability to pay damages for file-share host Uploaded, composers, lyricists and music publishers at least get a small compensation for the rights infringements of their works that have been committed on a massive scale,” Holzmüller went on to say.

“File-share hosts make a lot of money with the exploitation of creative contents,” added GEMA CEO Dr. Harald Heker, calling the “imbalance at the expense of our members unacceptable.”

“We therefore demand a legal framework where platform operators are held accountable and authors finally get their fair share in the respective proceeds. This decision is a clear signal for creatives,” said Heker, whose organization represents the rights of more than 70,000 members (composers, lyricists and music publishers) in Germany, and more than two million copyright owners globally.