Is streaming video illegal?

Legal or illegal? 10 questions about copyright

Arne Arnold

Anyone who violates copyright law when using photos, films or music must expect warnings that often amount to several thousand euros. These ten questions and answers about copyright clarify what is allowed and what is prohibited when viewing, listening and copying.

EnlargeThe legal situation on the web is often more nuanced than the media industry would admit.

1. What is copyrighted?

The copyright law protects both “works” and “certain other services”. Works are individual, intellectual creations in the fields of literature, music, the visual arts and the art of film. Or to put it more simply: It's about text, music, photos, film and art objects. The protection of works is called copyright in the narrower sense, while the other services are protected by so-called related rights. The pure compilation of protected or unprotected works can also be protected by copyright. In this case one speaks of a collective work.

Computer programs are protected by copyright as works of literature. In addition, the Copyright Act contains a number of special regulations for computer programs.

Basically, copyright refers to the exclusive right of the creator to his work. However, the latter can assign his rights to others. This is what the cameraman does, for example, who shoots a film scene for a film studio.

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2. Is it allowed to copy other people's works?

Only the author may make copies of his work. Others are prohibited from copying, so the method of reproduction, the number of copies made or the durability of the copy are irrelevant. However, there are exceptions to this prohibition, which either the legislature or the rights holder grants. The most important exception for private users is the right to private copying, which was introduced in the days of cassette recorders. It applies in many, but not all, cases.

3. Which rights have to be observed when using photos?

Photos are subject to copyright on the one hand, and the rights of the depicted on the other. The copyright lies with the photographer. However, the latter can, for example, assign his rights to a client. This is the case, for example, with photos of products that the product manufacturer uses on its website, in advertising and for press work.

Regardless of the photographer's copyright, the rights of the person shown, i.e. the person who can be recognized in the photo, also apply. You may not publish the photo without that person's consent. This also applies to social networks with a limited audience, for example if you only share photos on Facebook for “friends”.

Children also have a personal right and thus a right of what is shown in photos. As with adults, pictures of children can only be published with consent. And only parents can give this consent. Depending on their age and their ability to read, the child must also consent to the publication.

4. Can I use product photos for eBay sales?

If you want to sell something on Ebay, Amazon or other platforms, you usually also show pictures of the item. Here, however, you should avoid the temptation to resort to product photos from the manufacturers. Even if these are freely available for download on the manufacturer's website. Because that would violate the copyright and have to reckon with a warning with claims for damages and legal fees - often in the range between 500 and 1000 euros.

5. What do I have to consider when uploading videos?

In principle, it is not permitted to publish videos protected by copyright on YouTube or other video services. Uploading to file sharing sites is also prohibited. You can of course publish films that you have created yourself. However, even with films, you must have the approval of all persons depicted. Another pitfall is often the music in videos, which is mostly also protected by copyright. However, in 2016 Youtube reached an agreement with the rights management company GEMA. Now Youtube is allowed to show a variety of music videos that were previously blocked. Before uploading, you can check whether the music in your own video is allowed to play on YouTube. To do this, simply go to the YouTube audio library and then enter the title of the piece of music you are using in the additional search field “Search for music”. Youtube shows a list of all available artists and whether you are allowed to use the song. Clicking on an entry shows whether you are allowed to use the song or whether its publication is prohibited in some areas of the world.

6. Is it allowed to record music and films?

Recording music from the radio or internet streaming services such as Spotify is considered legal by many experts. This is especially true if you've paid for the streaming service. Films from streaming services can also be recorded legally. The reasoning here is about the right to a private copy. It is important that the source of the music or films is not obviously illegal and that no copy protection measures are circumvented.

Tip:Listen and download music for free on Youtube

7. Is it allowed to watch films on & Co.?

For a long time, viewing copyrighted films on streaming websites such as or its successors such as was considered legal. The legal argumentation was essentially based on the fact that watching a streamed film did not create a copy of a work. But in April 2017, a ruling by the European Court of Justice shook these arguments.

In this regard, lawyer Christian Solmecke believes that after this judgment, users have to be much more careful: “Users [when watching films on & Co.] are only protected by Section 53 UrhG. This allows reproduction for the purpose of private copying. However, only if it is not an obviously illegal submission. Every user would therefore have an obligation to test in advance, which would hardly be feasible. ”You can find more information from Solmecke here. Whether sites like and their offer are recognizable as illegal is a matter of debate. But it also depends on whether you are violating copyright law while watching the films.

8. Can I make a copy of a DVD movie?

Actually yes, because you have the right to a copy for private purposes. However, this right is restricted if the source is provided with copy protection. And that is the case with almost all film DVDs or Blu-rays. The same goes for almost all computer games on DVD, by the way. Music CDs often come without copy protection. Experts nevertheless see a possibility of creating private copies of a film DVD. If it is recorded during playback, then this should not infringe the copyright.

9. Is it legal to download movies or music?

While uploading a movie to the Internet, for example on a file-sharing platform, actually always violates copyright law, the legal situation for downloading is not that clear. Downloading is prohibited if it can be assumed that it is an illegal master copy. The question is whether you, the user, can tell whether the download source is illegal or not. This is the case with numerous file sharing platforms. Nevertheless, if you receive a warning because you or someone else has allegedly downloaded a copyrighted film on your home network, it is worth consulting a lawyer in many cases. You can find an initial orientation on the topic here.

10. Does the copyright end at a certain point in time?

Indeed it does. Internationally, copyright usually ends 50 years after the author's death. In Germany it is 70 years for most of the works, which is said to have been achieved by Richard Wagner's heirs. So there are already a lot of texts, some audio documents and a few films that are free of copyrights. The most extensive text collection of free books can be found at, where around 50,000 e-books are waiting for you. The largest German-language collection can be found at, but with only a limited download.

In the United States, films were not initially automatically protected by copyright. Accordingly, there are already more recent films that can be legally downloaded. The website offers you a large selection of films, but also music and texts.

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