Christmas greeting from the police

Monday, December 25, 2006 at 5:55 | Posted in Bloggers' rights, Blogosphere, Freedom of speech, Germany, internet, Legal | Leave a comment

Just days before Christmas, Marcel Bartels received a greeting from the Berlin police. He is summoned to appear as a suspect on 10th January 2007. He will be presented hitherto unspecified charges on a defamatory statement in the Internet.

While the summon does not specify which of Marcel’s posts is supposed to be defamatory, the date of the alleged crime is quoted as 20th October 2006. There are three posts in Marcel’s blog on that day. Assuming that the complaint is about his own posts and not a comment posted into somebody else’s blog, it would logically have to be one of the three.

The first post is promoting free music. Marcel specifically advises his readers not to download files from services that are regarded as illegal in Germany. He does, however, use critical language about the music industry in general and the German copyright organisation GEMA in particular.

His second post for that day is about cold calling. The post is a summary of a marketing call Marcel received from a call center working for the phone company Arcor. Other than referring to what was said on the phone, Marcel concludes that he is no longer going to use the company’s services.

The third post is a short one about the German journalist and writer Hendryk M Broder. The only personal statement by Marcel in that post is that he would rather not be present in the same room as Mr. Broder. The rest is references to a critical petition against Henryk M Broder published elsewhere in the web.

The petition has been signed by 240 persons appearing under their own names. If this post is what prompted the summon, it would be because of the bizarre German judicial practise that makes anybody linking to another site legally responsible for the material they are linking to.

If the police are indeed investigating one of these three posts, I have hard time detecting a “defamatory statement” in any of them. It is somewhat kafkaesque to summon somebody to appear at a police station as a crime suspect without specifying the alleged crime which would give the suspect an opportunity to prepare for their defense. Quite a christmas greeting from the police!

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