When operating a business from an English-speaking country, it’s easy to overlook the finer details of legal requirements overseas. However, if your business also has a base in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, you will more than likely be required to provide an impressum on your online presences. Failure to do so could lead to disciplinary action, which could have serious consequences for the...
The need for a global touch
With the advent of social media, our world can at times, feel smaller than ever. Perusing through posts, checking tweets, and reading e-mails gives us constant insight into what friends and families are up to—even if they are located halfway across the planet.
In an ever-increasingly globalized economy, it’s easy to think that these diminishing barriers also apply to business practices and norms. But even today, variations in legal practices, trade policies as well as differences in cultures still loom large in shaping our intertwined economic environment. Perhaps no sector showcases some of the challenges such nuances are able to bring forth more than the current surge of web 2.0 companies currently conquering the globe. Google, Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb have all encountered various bumps in the road throughout their campaigns to broaden their reach beyond US borders.
But setting up or expanding an enterprise abroad requires more than just being aware of macro trends, like those mentioned above. It’s often easy to forget the smaller, more workaday details when establishing an international presence. One interesting example that highlights the need for keeping up with such fine points is use of an Impressum (Latin for “printed”) in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
What’s an Impressum?
Sometimes also translated as “imprint”, an Impressum is a type of notice that indicates basic legal and publication information to the visitor. While there is neither a direct translation nor an exact legal equivalent in the United States, Impressums do share some commonalities with other terms often found in English-speaking countries (e.g. “Legal notice” or “Site notice”).
Companies and online media outlets, such as newspapers, magazines and journals, wishing to operate within any of these countries are obliged to make this information easily available to users. This requirement also applies to legal entities registered outside of the German-speaking realm that compete on the respective German, Austrian, or Swiss markets. Failing to comply with such regulations can prove to be a burden and may result in written warnings or even fines of up to 50,000€, such is the case in Germany.
What does an Impressum need to display?
Below we have laid out exactly what should appear in an Impressum in Germany. As anchored in the country’s telecommunication legislation, the following elements need to be present in every Impressum, if available.
- Name of the website operator or legal entity behind the web presence
- (commercial) address
- Contact information (e-mail and telephone numbers should always be included; fax if applicable)
- German trade register number or foreign equivalent
- VAT Identification number/business identification number
- Job or trade-related information (professional association/professional title)
- Information on the board of directors (should regulatory authorization be required)
There is no one-size-fits-all strategy when doing business internationally, and as the example above shows, being mindful of the unique quirks of your target country will not only facilitate trust: it will also help you steer clear of irritating warnings or burdensome fees.