Imprint obligation simply explained

Fatih-Kağan Taşkoparan

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Imprint obligation explained simply: How to create a legally compliant imprint

The internet is not an anonymous and lawless space, but is subject to clear regulations. If you operate a website in Germany, you must respect the privacy of users, must not infringe copyright and must be transparent about who is responsible for the operation and content of the site. And the latter is ensured by the so-called imprint obligation.

The legal notice is the section of a website in which visitors can obtain information about the responsible operator of this site. Which information belongs in the legal notice is mainly regulated in Section 5 of the German Telemedia Act (TMG). In addition, the legal notice must be easily accessible and must not be hidden anywhere on the page.

But how do you create a legally compliant legal notice, where is the best place to include it and what alternatives do you have if you don't want your private address to appear on the Internet? Answers can be found in the blog!

What is the imprint obligation and what objectives does it serve?

An imprint is important to inform visitors to a website (or other telemedia service) about who is responsible for providing and maintaining it. Of course, this is not about satisfying curiosity. Above all, it should prevent digital services from being operated anonymously.

There are currently two decisive legal regulations for the legal notice on websites:

  • § 5 of the German Telemedia Act (TMG)
  • § Section 55 of the Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (RStV)

There is no EU imprint obligation. Nevertheless, a number of cases have already landed on the table of the European Court of Justice due to objectionable imprints. It is conceivable that one day there will be a uniform EU-wide regulation. At the moment, however, the so-called country of origin principle still applies, which means that a different website imprint obligation sometimes applies to providers from abroad.

On this basis, the following information is a mandatory component of the imprint:

  • Full name of operators or legal representatives of a company
  • Full address of operators/companies
  • E-mail address at which the operating person can be contacted directly

There are also some optional components. Whether they must be present in the legal notice depends on whether the company is a business or a private individual. For example, in addition to their legal form, companies must also provide a contact telephone number and a tax number. Private individuals are not obliged to do so.

As a store operator, you must provide a telephone number in any case, even if your store is run by you as a sole trader. There was a corresponding ruling on this in 2014.

A contact person must also be explicitly named for journalistic-editorial content on a page. This person may differ from the general operator of the site or may be the same person.

Sample imprint for an online store

Information according to § 5 TMG
Operator and contact
Finn Fynax
Fynaxrstr. 1
12345 Fynaxstadt
Telephone number: 123 456 7890
E-mail address: finn@finax.io
Responsible for journalistic-editorial content according to § 55 II RstV
Finn Fynax
Images and graphics
Own pictures

Not in the mood for a private address online? Rent a virtual address!

Is an imprint mandatory? Yes. Do you necessarily have to use your private address? No.

It's understandable if you don't want to put your home address on the internet just like that. If you don't want customers who feel they've stepped on your toes suddenly ringing your doorbell, you should think about renting a virtual address.

This is a real address at which you must also be contactable by post. If you use the corresponding services, which cost around 100 euros per month, your mail will be managed or even delivered to you so that you can use it for a proper legal notice.

As a store owner, this also prevents overzealous customers from visiting your private residence because they want to return something or are even hoping for a warehouse sale with a few bargains. This is particularly useful if family members would be affected by such unwanted visits.

Which websites need an imprint and which do not?

In principle, every website must have an imprint. The only exceptions are non-commercial projects that are not intended for the public, but for purely private purposes. An example of this would be a digital family album. Nevertheless, lawyers repeatedly recommend that every website should have an imprint.

Where else do you need to include your legal notice?

Your own website is not the only form of telemedia distribution of content. A clearly visible imprint is also necessary in the following formats:

  • Business emails and newsletters
  • Company profiles in social networks
  • Podcasts, live streams and other audiovisual media

In these cases, this is referred to as provider identification. If possible, you should not only include a link to the legal notice on your website, but also a complete legal notice. If the link does not work because your website is currently offline or a typing error has crept in, the imprint obligation has already been breached.

Where do you have to include your legal notice on the website?

The website imprint obligation stipulates that the imprint may be a maximum of two clicks away from each page. But why should you even risk such counting games? It is advisable to always include a link to the legal notice in the footer of every page so that it is automatically displayed on every subpage.

The link to the imprint should ideally be marked with the word "Imprint".

What are the penalties if you violate the imprint obligation?

If you do not provide an imprint on your website, this is first of all an administrative offense that can be punished with fines in the (at worst) five-digit range.

However, a missing legal notice can also violate competition law, for example because it makes it more difficult for your customers to return goods. It's not just your customers who can sue you, but also your competitors. And this is where things get tricky, both legally and financially.

Conclusion: Do your homework and be on the safe side!

Proper compliance with the legal notice obligation is not rocket science. Use the template above as a guide and, if necessary, seek additional legal advice to clarify all open questions and ensure that your legal notice is absolutely watertight.

If you want to keep your private data off the Internet, you can consider a virtual address, but it must exist in real life and be suitable for postal delivery. Setting up a company abroad is also conceivable, as different rules sometimes apply to international websites. However, legal advice is of course absolutely essential in this case.

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