Many companies offer their goods or services to customers online. So that users know nevertheless, with which offerer they have it to do, the legislator introduced the imprint obligation. Who does this? And what information must be included?
What is an imprint?
Almost all operators of Internet sites must provide users with certain information about their identity. The legislator has regulated this in the Telemedia Act (TMG). He talks there about general information requirements.
The imprint is therefore a kind of business card. The person using the site should have the opportunity to check the seriousness of the provider. Consumers should be able to get an idea of the company or person behind the website, contact them and, if necessary, assert legal claims against them.
Who must provide an imprint?
Who is subject to the imprint obligation is regulated above all by § 5 TMG. Basically, it can be said that the obligation applies to all providers of a website if the platform serves business purposes. This means that pages used exclusively for private purposes are not subject to the imprint requirement (§ 18 of the State Media Treaty speaks of "exclusively personal or family purposes").
Important: If there is advertising on the privately used page that earns money, this can justify an imprint obligation.
Above all, sales platforms such as online stores and search engines must provide an imprint. But also accounts in social networks like Facebook and Co. require an imprint if the account is also used commercially, for example for job advertisements.
The activity must be for a longer period of time. This means that in the case of merely occasional activities, such as infrequent sales on an auction platform, an imprint does not have to be provided.
§ 5 TMG also speaks of "telemedia usually offered against payment". It is therefore sufficient if money can be earned on the market with the service offered. The provider does not have to do this.
What must an imprint contain?
There are certain minimum requirements for the imprint. In addition, the law requires the following additional information for various groups. But now first to the general requirements. After that, the imprint must contain:
- the name (in the case of natural persons it is the first name and surname). In the case of companies, i.e. so-called legal entities, the company name and the surname and first name of the authorized representative),
- for legal entities also the legal form,
- the address (street, house number, postal code and city. A post office box is not sufficient),
- a contact under which you can reach the person or company quickly – electronically as well as non-electronically. As a rule, this is the e-mail address and telephone number,
- the VAT or business tax identification number, if available,
- also, if available, the commercial, association, partnership or cooperative register with the register number.
In addition, certain professional groups such as brokers, catering businesses or insurance companies must indicate the supervisory authority responsible for them. The operator should name the website and the address of the authority. Reason: If the operator violates a professional obligation, consumers should have a contact person.
Providers who exercise a regulated profession (lawyers, tax consultants, notaries, etc.).) must indicate the responsible chamber as well as their occupation designation and the state, in which the occupation designation was lent to them. In addition, they must indicate the regulations that govern their profession and where they can be found.
If the operator offers journalistic-editorial content on his site, a responsible person with name and address must also be indicated (§ 55 paragraph 2 Interstate Broadcasting Treaty). In the case of newspapers or magazines, this is usually the managing director and editor-in-chief.
Since 2016, online providers who also offer their goods or services to consumers must also refer to the online dispute resolution platform with a link to. This is valid throughout the EU.
In addition, a company must also inform consumers whether it is willing or obliged to participate in a consumer arbitration procedure. If this is the case, the responsible consumer arbitration board must be named with its contact details (address and website). The notices under the VSBG must be easily accessible on the website of the entrepreneur, although the entrepreneur is free to decide whether this should be done in the imprint or elsewhere on the website, as long as easy access is guaranteed.
Where must be the imprint?
With most offerers the imprint is to be found over a link. This is also sufficient, as far as this link is easily visible and can be accessed from any page. The law speaks of "easily recognizable, immediately accessible and constantly available".
The link should also bear a clear name such as "Imprint" or "Contact", so that everyone can understand what is behind it. It is not sufficient if a provider hides the information in its general terms and conditions (GTC) or if special reading programs are required to retrieve the imprint.
What if an imprint is missing?
If a provider has not provided an imprint, even though he is required to do so by law, he may face a fine of up to 50,000 euros. In addition, he commits an infringement of competition. This can result in claims for injunctive relief, which are not infrequently enforced with the aid of warning letters against payment of a fee.
Further information is available from the E-Commerce-Verbindungsstelle Deutschland on its website under the menu items: "Topics", "Internet presence" and "Legal notice". Here is also the brochure "The imprint on the Internet" with more detailed information for downloading.