German anti-spam law and weblogs

A bill has been introduced into the German parliament to reduce email spam. Whether it will have any effect or not remains to be seen.
I was a bit worried when I read in Stu Savory’s blog that all private weblogs have to have an Impressum now. I have one anyway, but I know that’s EU law, perhaps more strictly enforced in Germany than Britain – it was not nice to think of Germany upping the ante on its own.

I enquired at Peter Müller’s weblog about the law, where there was one entry on the topic, and he wrote a second entry fairly certain that the law as to weblogs hasn’t changed.

Here’s a rough translation of the muepe entry:

bq. After the comment on the first entry on this topic, I looked at the bill in question (Bt-Drucks. 15/4835 v. 15.02.2005 “Entwurf eines Zweiten Gesetzes zur Änderung des Teledienstegesetzes (Anti-Spam-Gesetz)”, PDF) in detail. In particular I wanted to answer the question whether, as one weblog claims, this bill gives rise to a duty for all websites, and therefore all weblogs, to have a page with contact and legal details (Impressum).
In my opinion that is not the case.
Firstly, § 7 of the Telecommunications Act (Telekommunikationsgesetz) is to be amended, and this applies only to those offering services in connection with commercial communications. Those who previously had no duty to have an Impressum under § 6 of the Telecommunications Act will have no duty as a result of the amendment of § 7 either.
The purpose of the bill is different:

bq. The amendments relate to the following measures:
– introduction of a prohibition on disguising or concealing the true identity of the sender in the header of a commercial email,
– making it clear that it is not enough for the commercial character of an item to be evident from the body of the text, but that it may not be disguised or concealed in the subject either,
– the broadening of the definition of the regulatory offence in § 12 of the Telecommunications Act when there is an infringement of the prohibition of disguising or concealing the secnder,
– introduction of a regulatory offence when there is an infringement of the prohibition of disguising or concealing the commercial nature of an electronic message in the subject.

bq. If, therefore, there is no general duty to have an Impressum arising from another bill, the previous rules continue to apply. Information on them can be found here:

The whole thing came via TEFL Smiler, whom I rather attacked, quite unfairly. Sorry about that, David. I could just imagine the story travelling through the whole Web in an ever more distorted fashion.

3 thoughts on “German anti-spam law and weblogs

  1. Back in my day (specifically my year as Austauschstudent in Munich, 1982-83), all publications including the political flyers shoveled around the university by the wagonload had to have a “ViSdPR” notice on them somewhere, which I think I recall meant Verantwortlich im Sinne des Presserechts, right? Would the Impressum not just be an updating of that longstanding German law? And would the EU void existing German law on such points?

    Here in the US there’s a similar requirement for pr0n (so publishers can prove that their models are of legal age), for certain categories of partisan political advertisements (because candidates are supposed to account for their campaign funds, although that’s notoriously abused), and for periodicals sent through the mail (in order to certify their circulation numbers to advertisers, although what that should have to do with the use of the mail is unclear to me). But it’s not by and large obligatory for the remaining categories of publications. Defenders of the right to anonymity can cite our “founding fathers” such as Ben Franklin who commonly wrote under psuedonyms as a line of defense against reprisals from the British authorities (although I’ll bet in Ben’s case it was also a matter of marketing, since writing under various fictitious identities sold papers).

    How does German law handle the famous jurisdictional issues of the net? If I allow people in Germany to read my blog (published in Texas), would I be required to have an Impressum? If you write your blog in Germany but hosted it in the US, would the requirement apply to you?

    And could a group of bloggers found an umbrella organization with legal responsibility for Impressum purposes but keep their personal identities secret?

  2. What a lot of questions! Rhetorical, I hope .

    I suppose the Impressum does go back to the ViSdPR requirement, but it is definitely EU law already (and Stu Savory was mistaken in suggesting this was new). The EU passes a directive and that doesn’t apply in the individual countries until they’ve implemented it – at least, this is the most common thing. There was a directive in the year 2000, the Electronic Commerce Directive (00/31/EC). This was implemented in England and Wales by the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations. Similarly it’s been implemented in Germany. There are two Acts that may apply to blogs. However, your blog has to have a commercial purpose to need an Impressum, and Google ads aren’t enough to make it commercial. I don’t think my blog is really commercial, but because it may get me custom via other translators who read it (it doesn’t, much) or may at least work in my favour (or against!) with people who already employ me, I have the Impressum.

    The real problem in Germany is that you can be sued for not having an Impressum more easily than in Britain (Abmahnen). That will cost you a couple of hundred euros.

    As for jurisdiction, I don’t know the law, but I believe the important thing is that I live here in Germany, at least as far as the Impressum is concerned. Apart from the fact that your weblog isn’t commercial, no-one is going to sue you in the States for fear of not getting their money. I imagine the law might be different if I were broadcasting porn, although the practicalities might not be. Must read this stuff up some time!

    The thing about keeping your identity secret: again, if I am using my blog for advertising my translation services, I don’t care too much about people knowing who I am. And if it’s a private blog, there is no obligation to have an Impressum.

    One thing that annoys me is that I use Agent over t-online (German Telekom) to read UseNet groups, and t-online won’t allow me to post under a false email address, e.g. one with ‘REMOVETHIS’ in the middle, and indeed they say they may stop giving me services if I do that. I hardly ever post, but harvesting of email addresses is rife. I know I can post via a website somewhere or other and use a pseudonym. In view of the fact that I don’t write abusive messages and don’t want my name remembered for all time in the archives, I think it’s wrong of them to threaten to suspend services.

  3. Thanks for all the answers!

    Interesting that current Impressum requirements apply only to commercial publication whereas the old ViSdPR ones applied to everything. I guess that’s a good compromise.

    What about using a throwaway e-mail address for Usenet purposes? t-online may be able to require you to post from a real address but they can’t require you to read it.

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