WordPress websites typically have a specific purpose, which also means that there are some legal requirements in what you need to run the website. One of them is an imprint or at least a provider identification. But when do you need one of those and what information must it contain?
In the following article, I use imprint and provider identification synonymously. That it because in Germany and Austria, it’s called imprint, whereas in Switzerland and the rest of the European Union (EU) it’s an information requirement.
When do I need an imprint?
In Germany, the imprint requirements are mainly defined in § 5 Telemedia Act (“Telemediengesetz”, non-official English version can be found here). It describes that you need an imprint if your website is not exclusively for private use, where private use has to be narrowly construed. In practice, that means that as long as your website does not only contain content about your family and has no further purpose, it’s not seen as private. So nearly all websites in Germany need an imprint.
Additional requirements are defined in §2 Service Information Obligations Ordinance (“Dienstleistungs-Informationspflichten-Verordnung”) and §55 Art. 1 Interstate Treaty on the Modernization of the Media Order in Germany (“Staatsvertrag zur Modernisierung der Medienordnung in Deutschland”), so called “Interstate Media Treaty” (“Medienstaatsvertrag”).
European Union (EU)
In the whole European Union (EU), the information requirements are defined in Art. 5 Directive 2000/31/EC. In contrast of the other laws in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, this directive is not limited to your destination but enforces you to follow it as long as you provide services for European individuals.
Which information is required in the imprint?
Fortunately, the required information for an imprint or provider identification are pretty much the same, with some exceptions being that the German law is the most detailed one (obviously 😄) and also requires the most information.
In general, the following information is required:
- The name of the service provider
- The geographic address at which the service provider is established
- Contact information, including an email address, to ensure a rapid, direct and effective communication
Not in Switzerland
Furthermore, the following information is required if you don’t live in Switzerland and don’t provide services to European individuals:
- If you are a registered company, information about this registration, including the register and the registration number
- If your activity is subject to an authorisation scheme, the particulars of responsible supervisory authority
- Information about your profession if it’s regulated
- The VAT identification number
In Germany and Switzerland
In Switzerland in general and in Germany if you provide journalistic content, a responsible person has to be named in the imprint as well. In Germany, it’s already enough to provide a blog since consecutive blog posts are defined as journalistic content.
Additionally, in Germany there are some more required information according to your legal entity. These data may include:
- A representative of the company
- The chamber
- The capital stock if you provide this information elsewhere on the website
- Pending deposits if you provide information about the capital stock
- The professional association
- Professional regulations
- Professional liability insurance
- The legal job title
What about the phone number?
According to case C-298/07 of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from 16 October 2008 a phone number is not necessarily a required information for the imprint as long as there is – besides the email address – another contact information to ensure a rapid, direct and effective communication. This can be, but is not limited to, a contact form, where submitted form data can be responded within an hour.
While only recommended in Austria, in Germany it’s required that all information of the imprint are accessible to all users. That means in particular, embedding the information as image (to prevent crawlers from automatically index the data) or obfuscating the data is prohibited. Everything must be readable as text (to also allow increasing the font size) and with high enough contrast so that also handicapped users can access the data.
Recommendation for internationals
If you are not necessarily affected by these laws, it’s still recommended to provide at least base information about who you are and where one can contact you. At least for users inside German speaking areas this makes you much more trustworthy, since in this region one is used to have this information easily accessible on websites, especially if you provide products or similar.
How to get the required imprint data?
You can take the information from above, browse the laws by yourself and collect all the information needed to define your required imprint data. This takes a lot of time and is the most unsafe path since it’s completely up to you to decide whether the information is complete or not.
There are many generators out there to automatically generate an imprint based on given data. They may be more or less clunky or can also be out of date.
Consulting a lawyer is the most safe path to get a legally correct imprint – as well as a liability by the lawyer in order something he or she said is wrong. However, for most people it’s also very expensive and thus not applicable for different reasons.
Also sort of a generator, but directly within your WordPress and without sending any data to a third party, you can use the plugin Impressum or Impressum Plus, which helps you defining the required data for your imprint.
How to add the imprint data to my WordPress website?
If you collected your data manually or got them from a generator or a lawyer, you have to add the data manually on a page in your WordPress instance and make sure it is formatted properly and readable.
Both Impressum and Impressum Plus provide you an easy to use input area for your information as well as a block and shortcode for outputting the data according to your needs and liking while making sure to have a proper formatting so that the data is highly accessible by your users.