Germany: Public Interest in Disclosing Hairstylist Name

Cristina Bachmeier

In its decision of 13 January 2015, the German Federal Supreme Court allowed the publication of the full name of a known hairstylist in an article about the criminal conviction of one of his branch managers (case no. VI ZR 386/13).

The plaintiff operates several hairdressers’ shops. When his staff member was arrested for alleged attempted extortion under threat of force, the defendants published an article under the heading “branch manager of UW [full name] arrested with 'Hells Angels”.

The hairstylist filed an injunction suit against the editor of the newspaper and the use of his name in connection with the arrest of his employee. He considered that the publication impinged upon his general rights of personality under German fundamental law. Each of the lower instances court had decided in favour of the plaintiff.

In the appeal proceedings BGH repealed the decision of the previous instance and amended the judgement. The Court established at first that the present case falls under the scope of protection of general rights of personality of the plaintiff. However, the attack was legitimate.

When balancing the right to respect for private life and social appreciation of the plaintiff the Court ruled in favour of the latter. True allegations must be accepted as a rule, even if they affect negatively the person concerned. The media should be able to decide in principle according to their own journalistic criteria, which topics to cover. In this respect, the impugned reporting involves only the plaintiff’s professional sphere and does not puts him in a pillory. The article leads neither to his social exclusion nor to his stigmatization.

In addition, place the press release does not - according to the BGH-jurisdiction required - serious violation of personal rights of the plaintiff is. For these reasons the Court holds that the published article contains no serious violation of the plaintiff’s general rights of personality and its publication was lawfully.

Cristina Bachmeier, LL.M., is a research associate at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.

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The decision of the BGH is available in German here.