Misuse of copyright claims in Germany to stifle freedom of information
Open Knowledge Foundation Germany
Free flow of information online
Case won; opposing party has appealed
The German government is using copyright law to suppress documents published online, which have been legally obtained through freedom of information requests and contain information important for the public interest.
In 2019, as part of the freedom of information initiative FragDenStaat, the Open Knowledge Foundation requested a report from a Federal Agency about risks associated with glyphosate, a herbicide that has been linked to cancer. The Agency sent them the report, but claimed copyright on the document, and told them they could not publish it. When they did publish the report, the Agency sued them, ordering that the report be taken down because of an alleged copyright violation.
The Open Knowledge Foundation appealed the decision and set up a tool for every citizen to also request the glyphosate report. More than 45,000 people requested the report and received it just a few weeks later. In November 2020, a regional court ruled in favour of the Foundation, finding that the sharing of the report did not infringe copyright. As thousands of people had received the report after the campaign, the court said it was essentially published, eliminating the government’s right to forbid its further publication. This is an important precedent against governments using copyright to restrict the sharing of official information online, and a strong reminder that Germany’s copyright legislation needs urgent reform to better protect freedom of expression.
"As thousands of people had received the report after the campaign, the court said it was essentially published, eliminating the government's right to forbid its further publication"
To set a precedent that copyright law should not be used to prevent or deter activists and journalists from publishing the products of their investigative work.