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14 October 20204 minute read

DLA Piper obtains landmark judgments for Axel Springer and BILD before the German Federal Court of Justice

DLA Piper has successfully represented Axel Springer SE and BILD GmbH in two appeal proceedings before the German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) and obtained landmark decisions on key legal issues.

The background to this was the BILD newspaper's coverage of the G20 summit, which took place in Hamburg on 7 and 8 July 2017 and was marked by serious riots. On July 9, 2017 BILD published an article with the headline “Who knows these G20 criminals? Please send any relevant information to the nearest police station”. The article contained, among others, two photos of a woman who was shown stealing goods in front of a looted drugstore. The caption read: “The weekend theft? Water, sweets and chewing gum is what the woman in the pink T-shirt attained in the looted drugstore”. The woman in the picture sued for an injunction because of an alleged violation of her personality rights.

The Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main had initially found this reporting to be illegal and upheld the two actions against the online and print reporting. The Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt am Main concurred with the defendant's appeal. The German Federal Court of Justice has now set aside these rulings and dismissed the actions.

Prof Dr Stefan Engels, Co-Head of DLA Piper's German Intellectual Property & Technology Practice Group, comments: “Freedom of the press and freedom of expression must be fought for time and again. This requires media that not only say what is, but also vouch for it. These are central pillars of a living democracy.”

Julian Reichelt, editor-in-chief of BILD: "With its decision, the Federal Court of Justice has strengthened the freedom of the press and acknowledged BILD's coverage of the G20 riots in both form and content as a factual reporting of considerable information value and the appeal in BILD for support for police investigations as a relevant contribution to informing the public. We consider it particularly important that the Federal Court of Justice clarifies that this is not to be regarded as a private appeal for investigations, as disapproved by the Press Council, among others, and that media reporting is not subject to the legal restrictions of official public investigations.

The DLA Piper team comprised partner Prof Dr Stefan Engels and associate Dr Philipp Eichenhofer (both IPT, Hamburg). The case was led in-house by Felix Seidel, and at the Federal Court by Dr Thomas Winter.