German copyright law for cross-border infringements

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The Cologne regional court strengthens authors with judgment from Dezember 21, 2023

German copyright law can also be applied when the infringement occurs on a foreign website. This was decided by the Cologne Regional Court in its judgment of December 21, 2023 (Case No.: 14 O 292/22).

In Germany, copyright enjoys particularly high esteem. However, in the digital age, violations of German copyrights often occur abroad, for example, on foreign websites. Due to the high level of protection in Germany, it is of great importance to the author which law is applied in cases of cross-border copyright infringements, according to the commercial law firm MTR Legal Attorneys, which advises among others in IP law and copyright law.

German law in foreign copyright infringements

Thus, the cologne regional court has made a gratifying decision and clarified that German law is applicable even in cases of copyright infringements abroad.

Specifically, the case involved two photographs published by an Italian company on its website with the “.com” domain. The photos were aerial shots of a bridge.

A German general partnership (GbR) saw this as an infringement of their copyright to the photos. They approached the Italian company and offered a license for the use of the photographs. However, there was no response. Only after repeated letters and proof of copyright to the photos did the Italian company finally remove the images from its website.

License-analogous damages demanded

However, the copyright dispute was not yet concluded. The German GbR warned the Italian company and demanded it to submit a cease and desist declaration under penalty of punishment. There was further correspondence, but no amicable settlement was reached.

The plaintiff finally demanded license-analogous damages. The defendant’s website was also accessible in German and targeted customers from Germany.

The Cologne Regional Court decided that there was a claim for license-analogous damages and established that German law was applicable. It explained that according to the principle of protection, only German copyright law is relevant for the assessment of the claims. The website of the defendant was in Italian, but the infringement of copyright also had effects in Germany, as the website was publicly accessible there. By publishing the photos on its website, the defendant had violated the right of public accessibility under § 19a of the German Copyright Act (UrhG), according to the Cologne Regional Court.

Italian website also targets German audience

Furthermore, the court stated that the defendant’s online presence was also directed at Germany. This was evidenced, among other things, by the website being integrated into Google’s translation tool and the online shop also targeting customers from Germany. Since the plaintiff is based in Germany, grants licenses from Germany, and pays taxes on the income in Germany, there is a domestic connection in various respects, the Cologne Regional Court established.

The contested photos are protected light images according to § 72 of the German Copyright Act (UrhG). The defendant made these recordings publicly accessible on its website without permission, thereby violating copyright law, the Cologne Regional Court emphasized.

In determining the amount of damages, the court considered that the website is accessible in Germany but primarily targets an Italian audience. Only the consequences arising from the violation of German copyright law could be considered, according to the Cologne Regional Court.

Protection of intellectual property

The protection of intellectual property and copyrights, especially in German copyright law, is a high value. It is all the more pleasing that the Cologne Regional Court has ruled that German copyright law can be applied even in cases of cross-border copyright infringements on the internet. Thus, it has significantly strengthened the rights of authors.


MTR Legal Attorneys advises on copyright infringements and other questions of copyright and IP law.

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