Streaming with Torrents: Legal or illegal?

First Popcorn Time, now Torrents Time and comparable apps: You can access a huge selection of TV series and films via streaming – user-friendly and in good quality. Unlike Amazon, Apple, Hulu or Netflix, for example, the offer is free of charge. Too good to be true?

How does this matter judge itself from a legal point of view, in particular what are the consequences, possibilities or opportunities for the interested reader and what conclusion does the author reach from a personal point of view? Find out more!

Streaming by means of file sharing

For streaming, Torrents Time uses the BitTorrent protocol for file sharing and also works as a plugin directly in the browser. For streaming, it is therefore necessary that there are enough users who not only download content, but also upload it again, at least in part. Apps like Torrents Time hide this upload, but it still takes place.

  • File sharing – including uploading content – is generally permitted in Switzerland.
  • The prerequisite for this is that the shared content is not illegal.
  • In particular, the consumption, storage and distribution of child pornography are prohibited (Art. 197 para. 5 StGB).

Copyright limits

However, copyright law also sets limits: as soon as content is protected by copyright, it may only be publicly shared with the consent of the corresponding author or rights holder (Art. 10 URG). Most television series and films are works in the copyright sense (Art. 2 para. 1 and 2 URG), so that legal file sharing is not possible.

An exception exists insofar as the exclusive downloading of copyrighted content for personal use is lawful. For consumers, private use “in the personal sphere and among persons who are closely connected among themselves” is particularly relevant – this includes, for example, friends and relatives (Art. 19 para. 1 lit.a URG). Anyone who deactivates uploading during file sharing or streaming and restricts himself to consumption does not violate Swiss copyright law.

Anyone caught sharing files illegally using Torrents Time can be punished for copyright infringements (Art. 67 et seq. URG) and must reckon with claims for damages.

An example

Student Peter uses Torrents Time and enjoys the large offer. Streaming via Torrents Time was offered to him by a well-known file-sharing website and runs in his browser. With a VPN provider that was recommended to him by the same website, Peter has taken out a subscription for anonymization.

After a few months, Peter is awakened rudely by the police in the early morning, The police search Peter’s house and his computer and smartphone are also seized. Later, the police found out that Torrents Time had actually been used on a computer and provided the prosecutor’s office with a list of shared content, including well-known films from “Hollywood”.

Half a year later, the public prosecutor’s office sentences Peter to a conditional fine totalling CHF 4,500.00 with a probationary period of two years for copyright infringements. Peter must also pay a fine of 800 francs and assume the procedural costs of CHF 1,800.00. The criminal proceedings lead to an entry in the criminal record. The recovered computer is destroyed and disposed of. Since Peter lives in modest financial circumstances, no claims for damages are made.

The use of Torrents Time and similar apps is tempting

If content uploading is not deactivated – illegal. Consumers should therefore refrain from using such apps in their own interest. Another problem is that such apps are often plagued by security gaps. Visiting file-sharing websites can also be dangerous, as they often form a playground for harmful software and dubious advertising.

At the same time, the American entertainment industry is also challenged: It continues to refuse to satisfy the high demand for its content. From a legal point of view, however, this market failure cannot justify copyright infringements. After all, there is hope that the model of the music industry will have an effect, as attractive streaming services for music are now available to consumers who are willing to pay without any doubt as to their legality.

Whoever uses torrents time and comparable apps for streaming can be punished for copyright infringements and must reckon with claims for damages. The uploading of content, which could at best prevent an infringement of the law, can be a serious problem.

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