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The German Federal Court of Justice on online newspaper archives and personal rights of publicity (BGH, Urteil vom 30. Oktober 2012 - VI ZR 4/12)

A couple of days ago the German Federal Court of Justice has handed down an interesting decision regarding the question whether an individual may demand that his name be deleted from press articles in publicly available online newspaper archives, if the matter reported is long in the past and no longer currently relevant (Bundesgerichtshof, Urteil vom 30. Oktober 2012, Az. VI ZR 4/12).


In the case decided, a Gazprom manager had sued the German national newspaper “DIE WELT”. He complained about the fact that the paper had archived a report dating from the year 2008 about criminal proceedings against him in connection with alleged perjury regarding his former role as an agent for the Stasi (the former communist East German secret police) in the 1980s, in which his name was reported in the clear. The claimant alleged that now, four years on, there was no legitimate interest for the newspaper to make this report, and with it his full name, available to the public in the internet online archive of the paper. He felt that this constituted an infringement of his personal rights of publicity, putting a stain on his reputation on a matter long since past.

 

The Federal Court of Justice has now decided that in a situation like this, at least in this particular case, the freedom of information and the freedom of the press prevail over the individual’s rights. If the reporting as such was permitted and within the bounds of law at the time of the initial report, and the item can still be considered relevant for current informational purposes, then archiving the report in its unaltered form, retaining the full name of the persons involved, can be considered legal. So, the manager lost the case and will have to live with the fact that his name will continue to be found in conjunction with past investigations.

 

While publicity may be a good thing for artists, actors and other protagonists of modern life, on certain occasions it may also be quite embarrassing or even detrimental to one’s reputation. German law allows for a number of effective remedies against inappropriate or even defamatory news reporting, libel and slander. On the other hand, the freedom of information and the freedom of the press are constitutional rights in Germany as well, and in this case, the German Federal Court of Justice has asserted these principles once again.

Interestingly enough, the court itself meticulously avoids to give the manager’s name in its own published decision...

See the court press release here (Link) and the court decision here (Link, German language, respectively).

 

 

If you have any questions please feel free to contact:

Dr. Marcus Dittmann

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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