The judgement of the German Supreme Court of 26th June 2003 (File Number: I ZR 296/00) – “maxem.de”
The 1st Civil Division of the German Supreme Court ruled that the bearer of a legal name can demand that a third party who uses the same name as a nickname for his internet representation relinquishes using this name as an internet address. This judgement is based on the following findings of fact:
The plaintiff is an attorney-at-law whose legal name is Werner Maxem. The defendant has been using “Maxem” as a nickname for the network – especially internet – communication since 1990/91. He compiled his alias name from the first letters of the given names of his grandfather, his father and his own given name (Max, Erhardt, Matthias). The defendant has been running his home page at “www.maxem.de”.
The plaintiff wants to present himself and his law office in the internet at “www.maxem.de”. His claim seeking to prohibit the defendant from using the name Maxem as an e-mail address or for a home page, was dismissed by the Regional Court and the Regional Appeal Court in Cologne. The following two grounds were decisive for the ruling: The use of the name Maxem by the defendant does not constitute an unauthorised use of a name, since it neither causes confusion nor irritation due to the impossibility of allocating the name. Furthermore, by using the name Maxem as an alias name, the defendant has acquired rights to the name, which justify his use of it.
The German Supreme Court overruled the judgements of the Regional Court and of the Regional Appeal Court in Cologne and sustained the claim by forbidding the defendant to use the domain name “maxem.de”. The Court held that the use of another person’s name as an internet address is unauthorised. Each bearer of the name Maxem could demand the relinquishment of using the name. The Court denied that the defendant had any rights to the alias name Maxem. It is true that the naming law provides protection also to those who use a pseudonym. A prerequisite for such protection, however, is that the bearer of an assumed name is known under this name, i.e. that he has achieved broad recognition under this name. The plaintiff’s right to use a name is not infringed by any use of his name, but by the registration of the domain-name “maxem.de”, because this makes it impossible for the plaintiff to use his name as a domain name. The defendant is at the liberty to continue to use his alias name or his nickname for the purpose of private communication in the internet, since this does not affect any of the plaintiff’s rights worthy of protection.