Every German organisation offering its services online must display an imprint on their website. This applies if the website pursues a commercial interest, e.g. operates an online shop, but also if services or journalistic content are offered via the website. This is even the case if the website solely places advertisement – as a result, even a private blog with advertising banners on the site must have an imprint. This is because customers who buy goods or services over the internet should have the possibility of being able to turn directly to the right contact person in case of an issue.
According to § 5 of the German Telemedia Act (TMG), the mandatory information to be provided includes name, address, contact information, and in the case of legal entities also the legal form of the entity, the registry number and the authorised representative, e.g. the managing director. In addition, the imprint must be accessible from every sub-site of the website.
But time and again, providers of such websites do not have an imprint on their website. In such cases, organisations can be fined for violating the imprint obligation, which can get quite expensive.
Generally, the country-of-origin-principle according to § 3 Abs. 1 TMG applies, meaning that foreign organisations are not subject to the imprint requirement. However, many organisations do not know that a business location in Germany (a desk in a co-working space is already sufficient) leads to an imprint obligation. The same applies if the foreign organisation directly addresses the German market with its website, i.e. actively is acquiring customers in Germany. In this case, the organisation concerned must make an imprint available, because the German consumers have – according to a judgement of the regional court Frankfurt a.M. (Judgement of 28.03.2003, Az. 3-12 O 151/02) – an interest to know which law the foreign organisation is subject to, who exactly is the contact person and which agency relationships exist.
Especially small companies and start-ups can hardly oppose the penalties resulting from a breach of the imprint requirement, which result from a violation of the imprint obligation. These can quickly become a financial and legal issue. It is therefore better to display an imprint on the website, even if you are not sure if your organisation needs one.