Liability for links and adwords, German style -- and a visit to Google Translate

From the IPKat's talented German friend Uli Hildebrandt (of Juve’s No.1 IP law firm of the year Lubberger Lehment) comes news of a new decision from the Bundesgerichtshof -- that's the top German appellate court -- of 7 October 2009. Affectionately known to German lawyers by its citation BGH (I ZR 109/06 - Partnerprogramm), the Court has ruled as follows:
"(a) Erscheint bei der Eingabe eines Suchbegriffs in der Trefferliste einer Suchmaschine ein Text, dem der Verkehr eine markenmäßige Benutzung des für einen Dritten als Marke geschützten Begriffs entnimmt, so genügt der Markeninhaber mit dem Vortrag dieses Geschehens im Regelfall seiner Darlegungslast für eine markenmäßige Benutzung seines Zeichens durch den Inhaber der unterhalb des Textes angegebenen, über einen elektronischen Verweis (Link) zu erreichenden Internetadresse. Macht dieser geltend, er benutze den betreffenden Begriff auf seiner Internetseite nur in einer beschreibenden Bedeutung, trägt er hinsichtlich der dafür maßgeblichen konkreten Umstände die sekundäre Darlegungslast.

(b) Unterhält ein Unternehmen ein Werbepartnerprogramm, bei dem seine Werbepartner auf ihrer Website ständig einen Link auf die das Angebot dieses Unternehmens enthaltende Internetseite bereitstellen, so sind diese Werbepartner jedenfalls dann als Beauftragte des Unternehmens i.S. von § 14 Abs. 7 MarkenG anzusehen, wenn ihnen für jeden Besucher, der über diesen Link zu dem Unternehmen gelangt und mit diesem einen Geschäftsabschluss tätigt, eine Provision gezahlt wird und der betreffende Werbepartner erst nach einer Überprüfung durch den Unternehmer selbst, der den Werbepartnern eine Auswahl für die Gestaltung der Werbemittel vorgibt, in das Partnerprogramm aufgenommen wird. Die Haftung nach § 14 Abs. 7 MarkenG beschränkt sich dabei auf das Handeln des Beauftragten auf eine bestimmte zum Partnerprogramm angemeldete Website, wenn nur über diese Website getätigte Links abgerechnet werden und der Auftraggeber auch nicht damit rechnen muss, dass der Beauftragte noch anderweitig für ihn tätig wird".
Since, says Uli, this all sounds a bit complicated even for Germans, he has kindly fed it through Google Translate, which renders it thus:
"(a) appears when entering a search term in the results of a search engine a text, the traffic being a trade mark be used for a third party removes the trademarked term, the trademark owner, with the presentation of this event is sufficient as a rule, his explanation of his load for a trade mark be used sign by the owner of the given below the text, an electronic reference (link) to reach Internet. Makes this claim, he used that term on its website only in a descriptive meaning, it adds to the relevant factors regarding the specific presentation of the secondary load.

(b) If the company has an affiliate program, providing its advertisers with the constant on its website a link to the website containing the offer of this company, these advertisers are in any case be considered as representative of the company in view of § 14 paragraph 7 MarkenG if them for each visitor who passes through this link to the company and makes a deal with this, a commission is paid and the relevant advertisers only after a review by the entrepreneur himself, the advertising partners a selection for the design of advertising claims to be included in the partner program. Liability under § 14 paragraph 7 MarkenG is limited to the actions of the agents to a particular Affiliate registration site if made only through this website links are settled and the client does not expect to be that the agent or otherwise for him will operate."
There are two interesting points here, Uli tells us:
(a) Despite several proceedings pending at before the Court of Justice of the European Communities, the BGH still dares to rule in cases involving adwords. If a third party’s trade mark appears (as a trade mark) in the advertising text under the link address, the advertiser commits a trade mark infringement.

(b) The BGH clarifies an issue concerning liability for links. A company that pays commission to another company which has a link to the first company’s offers and infringes a trade mark with this concrete link is itself liable for the link.
"Am I clearer than the BGH?", he asks. Yes, comes the answer, but that's not difficult ...

The IPKat doesn't have problems with national courts daring to decide issues which are, explicitly or by implication, awaiting rulings by the European Court of Justice: if a national court were bound to suspend judgment until the ECJ had ruled, the strategic reference of questions for preliminary rulings could fast became a popular strategic tool among litigants (particularly in multi-jurisdictional disputes) that needed way of stalling for two years or thereabouts. However, he's uncomfortable at the thought of a case being wrongly decided where an earlier dispute has been referred for a preliminary ruling but that ruling does not come out until after a later, non-referred and non-suspended action has been determined. This offends his Aristotelian sense of distributive justice which leads him to prefer that similar disputes are resolved in a consistent manner. Merpel says, at least there's not much worry that the ECJ will be greatly influenced by the jurisprudence of the Bundesgerichtshof, or indeed of any other respected appellate court in Europe ...

Translation for dummies here
Translation for humans here
Liability for links and adwords, German style -- and a visit to Google Translate Liability for links and adwords, German style -- and a visit to Google Translate Reviewed by Jeremy on Sunday, November 01, 2009 Rating: 5


  1. I wonder whether the ever cynical and often wise Merpel would think that Google's translation service could infringe copyright?

    This is something to consider if American class action lawyers or continental activists in the EU find themselves with not enough to do.

  2. First of all: Yes, true. But wasn't the focus of the section you cited as "a)" mainly directed towards the question of the "burden of evidence" as this has been a problem in previous cases?

    I agree with you that there a references pending which most probably will cover this issue. Still, as the GA has indicated already at multiple occasions his first opinion only covers the "booking process & the display of ads" and he has stated expressively that in the Google France opinion he question of whether the trade mark or a similar sign (tm) was used in the text... and I personally would be very surprised to see that the GA finds the use of the tm in the text of the ad not to affect the function of origin...

    Still, don't you think that it might be not a big challenge for national courts to deem the use of a tm to it as an act of unfair competition? (as the French courts did and also the OGH is feeling very tempted to do...)

    Kind regards,


    PS: I am very surprised to see that the BGH hasn't sticked to his old/proven/previous terminology which I've found much more comprehensible... different senate?

  3. Me again...

    Dear Uli,

    1: Sorry for all the spelling mistakes & missing words in my first comment.

    2: I find it hard to agree with you. The case at hand is, at least in my opinion, NOT a keyword advertising case. It is a meta tag/SEO case from 2004(!).

    3: Thus the BGH has NOT "dared" to decide on any issue pending at the ECJ as Keyword Advertising and Meta tags are, in the opinion of many authors, seen to be different cups of tea [Fezer, MarkenR, 4th, 85,(87; Viefhues in Hoeren/Sieber, Handbuch MultimediaR, 19th 2008, 246, 165].

    4: The sections you've cited relates, in my opinion, only to the burden of evidence.

    5: About the liability issue... sounds pretty reasonable for me, although I find it a bit harsh compared to the way the "broad match" keyword option got treated. What do you think?

    Kind regards,



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