An Impressum is a disclosure of information about the person responsible for a website that appears to be required by laws in some countries. This concerns creators in Germany and Austria the most. A rundown of the concept can also be found on the German Wikipedia: Impressumspflicht (German). This page will look mostly at Germany.
Why talk about this here?
The IndieWeb encourages people to create their own identity online and there has even been an IndieWebCamp organised in Germany. It seemed important to point out to people willing to start a website from Germany that they are required to disclose certain personal information on that new site.
The biggest hurdle for people is the requirement to publish their home address on their website.
Which laws are we talking about exactly?
- Telemediengesetz (TMG), especially § 5 Allgemeine Informationspflichten (“General informing duties”.)
- Staatsvertrag für Rundfunk und Telemedien (Rundfunkstaatsvertrag – RStV), especially § 55 Informationspflichten und Informationsrechte (“Informing duties and information rights”.)
When must I provide an Impressum on my site?
- If any of your content is businesslike you are required to publish personal information in accordance with TMG § 5.
- The interpretation of businesslike (geschäftsmäßig) can be conflicting but does not mean your website has to make you any money directly. Although all commercial websites (a single banner ad does the trick) are covered, corporate blogs or portfolios are too.
- Daniel Rehbein talks about the difference between geschäftsmäßige (businesslike) and gewerbsmäßig (professional) (German). Concluding that the word geschäftsmäßige – as used by the law – applies to “all activities which are operated seriously and are not temporary (lasting activities)”. This would cover blogging, especially with the key principle of longevity.
- If any of your content can be interpreted as “journalistic and editorial services” you are required to publish personal information in accordance with RStV § 55.
- If any of your content can be described as not exclusively personal or within family circles you are required to publish personal information in accordance with RStV § 55.
In theory, offering an online service to anyone in Germany means you have to comply with European and German laws concerning this. In practice, it is mostly websites ran by people in Germany or written in German (i.e. with a clear German audience) that have to comply.
Just being hosted in Germany might require you to provide an Impressum, as written by a German hosting company that was consulted on this:
If you are just hosting your website in Germany, but it’s not in german and not targeted at a german audience, you probably don’t need to have an Impressum at all. Again, the german laws are fuzzy on the matter what constitutes “targeted at a german audience”.
What information am I required to publish?
This depends on what law you have to comply with, but all of them require your full legal name and address. P.O. boxes do not suffice because you cannot be served there.
The Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection offers a guideline to help you figure out what you are required to publish: Leitfaden zur Anbieterkennzeichnung (German).
Several resources say you must also publish a phone number. The European Court has decided that a phone number can be replaced by a simple contact form however. See: Europäischer Gerichtshof entscheidet: Telefonnummer in der Anbieterkennzeichnung nicht notwendig, elektronische Anfragemaske reicht aus (German).
Although interpretation and law may vary per country, from European guideline 2000/31/EG, amongst others, it follows that for any commercial activity by a corporation, having a web site can be interpreted as such, a tax/vat number and a chamber of commerce registration has to be easily accessible on a website. In Germany this is the "UST-ID" and the "Handelsregister", in the Netherlands that would be "BTW" and "KvK".
There are some online services available that will generate the content of the Impressum page for you.
- eRecht24’s generator (German)
- Twigg’s Translations’ generator (German)
- Twigg’s Translations can provide you with an English version of the Impressum, though the generator itself is in German.
- In Impressumspflicht für fremdsprachige Websites (German), Peer Wandiger writes about how this all applies to websites written in English, non-German websites published by a German provider, German websites published by a foreign provider, location of servers and TLDs. In short: 99% of the cases still require an Impressum.