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Headwind from Europe: The New Position of the German Courts on Personality Rights after the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

By Corinna Coors
Read the Full Contribution as a PDF

Suggested Citation: Corinna Coors, Headwind from Europe: The New Position of the German Courts on Personality Rights after the Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, 11 German Law Journal 527-538 (2010), available at

A. Introduction

In Germany, as in the U.S., the relationship between protection of privacy and freedom of expression has been subject of many decisions.   In the U.S. a right of privacy was famously conjured out of common law precedents by Warren and Brandeis.   Over the course of a century, it developed into a right of publicity, which gave celebrities the power to prevent the commercial use of their names, endorsements, images, voices, and other attributes of personality by unauthorized third parties.   In defining such a right, much attention has been focused on separating what is commercially unacceptable from what is desirable free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.   It has also been important to settle the duration of such rights.   Publicity rights as a commercial value of a person’s identity are therefore well established in the U.S., although state laws vary widely as to the extent of protection.   In Germany, due to the constitutional background of the personality right, the balance between public and private interests still operates differently.  After the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2004 convicted the German Federal Republic of violating the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights Fundamental Freedoms, the German Federal Court (Bundesgerichtshof—BGH) took the opportunity to think over its previous position about image rights.  Three judgments were examined by the German Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht—BVerfG) and one of them was reversed.

After giving a short description of the legal basis for personality rights in Germany, the article illustrates the old and introduces the new German jurisprudence in relation to personality rights.  It further examines how the BGH and the BVerfG have reacted to the critics of the ECHR by developing and defining the limits of the graded protected concept (abgestuftes Schutzkonzept) and giving up the absolute figure...