German Government Claims Copyright on Document

22 January 2014

The German Ministry of the Interior has ordered a freedom of information website to take down a document obtained under the freedom of information law.

Frag den Staat, a German FOI portal run by the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, published a  document on election law policy that the government now says is covered by copyright protection.

The document is a five-page study written by government staff that analyzes a ruling by the German constitutional court in November 2011 which declared unconstitutional the 5% party quota for the European Parliament elections as unconstitutional. The German court said the provision did not justify the restriction of the principles of equal suffrage and of equal opportunities for political parties.

The study concludes that any quota would be unconstitutional, but the law was changed to set the party quota at 3%.

“When the study in question was received from the Ministry of the Interior through an FOI request on FragDenStaat.de, the ministry prohibited publication of the document on copyright grounds,” according to a statement from FragDenStaat, which said it “decided to publish the document anyway to take a stand against this blatant misuse of copyright.”

The government followed up with a cease and desist letter shortly after. The Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, the legal entity behind FragDenStaat,  is refusing to comply with the order, “and is looking forward to a court decision that will strengthen freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of information rights in Germany.”

The campaign site with all documents and press release in German.

“In trying to suppress publication of the document obtained through exercising the right to information, the German government is limiting public debate on an important matter, possibly to avoid criticism or embarrassment,” stated Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.

“As well as being a violation of freedom of expression and information, this cease and desist order is absurd,” she added. “It is not logical to prevent sharing of a document which has been released to one requester as any other member of the public would also be able to obtain it via an information request.”

Access Info and other groups have posted the document on their websites.

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