Shut Up Boy, Do You Want To Get Sued?
I guess snow by this time last year was an anomaly, which surprises me. It will be a kind of bummer to possibly not have snow by Christmas. It’s been raining as of late, off and on, but it just hasn’t been cold enough. It’s been cold, hovering three or four degrees above zero, but not much lower.
We got a letter from a German law firm in Hamburg threatening to sue us if we don’t pay them 800 euro by Monday. They accuse us of downloading an episode of a certain TV show. I haven’t translated the entire letter, nor will I, but often what they are really asking for is for us to admit guilt, agree to never do it again in the future, and pay them the 800 to cover the costs of finding us out. If not, they can take us to court.
It’s essentially blackmail. We know you done did bad, pay us a tidy sum of money to go away, or we’re telling.
Unfortunately, it’s very, very common here I’ve since found out. I had heard of people getting letters and such before, but I had been careful about my downloading. Just not with TV shows as, to the best of my knowledge, no lawsuits have ever been filed over an episode of a TV show (at least not in America). So I’ve been less careful in that department. And as far as I can tell, this is really the only show any Germans are doing this about. Go figure.
I’m not proud about turning to torrents and such while here. It’s just so difficult to stay up to date and current over here, which is unfortunately important to me. A lame and terrible excuse to be sure. But if such items were available for legitimate purchase (in most cases) or viewing, I gladly would. It’s not something I’d ever do when home as there are plenty of easy channels to see things. And I’d still never do it with music as there’s no trouble legally acquiring that (and I don’t do it that often anyhow). Same goes for games. I don’t, however, feel guilty about ever downloading anything that aired on broadcast TV, because that was free to watch in the first place. And some networks still have their heads in the sand about the age we live in that you have no other choice. That and the CBS website player always makes my computer crash.
Anyhow, so what now? It’s complicated, of course. There are three options.
1) Pay the money and be done with it. That’s not happening. Not just because we simply don’t have 800 euros to give them that fast (or ever), but also in principal. It is a sleazy tactic. They send out over 500,000 of these letters a year. One firm sent out 79 million euro worth of requests. If just 10% of those people just pay as requested, and more than 10% probably do, that’s 7.9 million euro made from simply sending out some letters after running some software. They’ve stopped doing it in America as too many law firms are being sued for the practice. In the UK they never even had a chance as the courts threw the cases out at the start. Germany, unfortunately, is one of the remaining places where it still happens so frequently (though there are lawsuits happening to stop it, I’ve read). No one should take this option, and every lawyer around highly recommends doing anything but this.
2) Ignore it. La la la la la, this isn’t happening. This is a slightly tempting, if foolish, option for our circumstances. The short turnaround from request to payment deadline is on purpose. It’s meant to intimidate. If we did ignore it they’d probably send us another letter. And another. It may raise a red flag for our case. If they were to actually mean it, they’d send it via registered mail so we’d have to sign for it. We’d then legally have six weeks to respond or not. THEN they could take us to court if they wanted. If they did it would be for the penalty of doing such a thing. Their legal fees are capped at 100 euro in such a case (which makes the letter also very annoying as they know they’re not entitled to that much). I don’t know how fast lawsuits move here, but if it’s anything like the rest of German bureaucracy, it would take a little while. By that time, we’d most likely be out of the country and back home. Since it’s a civil case, and not a criminal one, there’s nothing they could really do. They would win the case, of course, but they’d have no way to actually get the money without suing us in the US. Which they’d never do. So, worst case, Chris would never be able to work in Germany again without paying that fine. Bummer?
3) Talk to a lawyer and try to negotiate. Usually the lawyer will send them a modified cease & desist letter basically telling them to back off, they have no real case (ISPs aren’t supposed to hand over the info that easily unless the offender is doing a whole lot of sharing), and so on. Or, if you just want it to go away, you tell them you won’t admit to anything, but you promise never to do it again and are willing to pay something. Then the total is pared down and you pay it off for less than the original (even including your own lawyer’s fees). Or just reject that and hope they give up. Considering less than 100 of these cases have actually been brought to court, that’s pretty likely.
Luckily for us, there is a law firm that handles cases like this as a specialty just down the street. Literally. I can see the building from our window. How handy.
I brought the letter to them and our nice new lawyer friend gave us the rundown. She will send them a letter basically telling them we won’t admit to doing it, we don’t do it again, we don’t speak German, we have no money whatsoever, we’re leaving soon anyways, so if you want the money you’ll have to follow us back to the courts there. They’ll probably counter and ask us to pay half in a lump sum or over time. What to do after that? Who knows. Hopefully we’ll be close enough to leaving that we can just ignore it and move on.
Regardless. It is stressful. It’s our own fault, but also a heaping pile of bullshit.