When it comes to international e-commerce projects there is always the question whether local law is applicable or not and what consequences this might have. Does German Law apply to an international website also addressing German customers? Must mandatory information be provided in German language? What about the terms and conditions?
Recently, the district court of Berlin (LG Berlin) decided a comparatively clear case: The court ruled that the US-based messaging service WhatsApp must supply its terms and conditions in German, if the rest of the website or app is provided in German (LG Berlin, 09.05.2014 – 15 O 44/13).
The district court’s decision follows the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice: A trader is "directing" its activity to the member state of the consumer's domicile, if he is evidently willing to gain new customers in that particular member state (EuGH, 7.12.2009 - C 585/08).
Concerning terms and condition, that arises from sect. 305 para 2 of the German Civil Code (BGB). Under this provision, the terms and conditions only become part of the contract, if the customer is able to reasonably take notice of them.
This does not mean that any international website targeting German audience must have terms in German language. As a general rule it can be held that if it is possible for the customer to use the website and even place an order in an online-store in a foreign language the customer also has do deal with foreign legal texts. If however localisation leads to the use of German as a language on the site the fine-print has to be translated as well.
Needless to say that when directing services to German customers also German consumer laws apply which leads to the necessity of compliance under local laws. No matter in what language German mandatory laws has to be taken care of.
The judgement’s general essence might not be surprising. It does reveal one more issue however: German unfair competition regulation gives consumer organisations the power to take companies to court. And these organisations do – and do not shy away from the big ones.