German rights holders want to sue Kino.to viewers

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Last week’s raid of the popular European video streaming portal Kino.to could for the first time also have legal consequences for users who merely visited the site to stream videos. Germany’s rights holder association GVU signaled late last week in a blog post that it would be willing to take individual users to court.

Kino.to was taken down last week when police in a number of European countries raided data centers, offices and residences, arresting 13 administrators of the site in the process. Kino.to was popular in Europe for offering access to Hollywood movies and U.S. TV shows. The raid has prompted retribution from hacktivists, but it has also prompted some users to worry about any legal fallout.

GVU admitted that there’s no legal precedent for users of a site like Kino.to being held liable for infringement. However, it argued that any stream leads to a temporary copy of a file in a user’s computer cache, which in the case of Kino.to could be seen as the reproduction of a copyrighted work without permission.

The case against Kino.to would “offer an opportunity” to test this legal theory in court, the organization suggests. In other words, to establish a legal precedent, GVU would be willing to sue individual users who merely viewed a TV show episode or a movie via Kino.to. Users could incur both civil and criminal liabilities, the organization argued, adding that criminal copyright infringement can lead to prison sentences of up to three years.

It’s still unclear whether GVU will actually have a chance to sue any viewers, much less have them thrown in jail: Kino.to didn’t host any of the material itself but instead offered a comprehensive catalog with links to file and video host sites. That means the incriminating evidence may not actually be on Kino.to’s servers.

However, German press reports indicate that law enforcement also took down at least one video host that was affiliated with Kino.to, opening up the possibility that at least some Kino.to users could actually get taken to court.

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