What is economic honor

Personal rights

Team of authors iRights.Lab

Philipp Otto is the founder and executive director of the independent think tank for digital strategies iRights.Lab. irights-lab.de.

Valie Djordjevic is co-founder and editor of iRights.info. She mainly writes on the topics of copyright law and art, gender and teaches writing for the internet as a lecturer. She works as a scientific editor at iRights.Lab.

Jana Maire is a freelance consultant for digital society change at the think tank iRights.Lab and at the publisher iRights.Media.

Tom Hirche studied law at the Humboldt University in Berlin and is an alumnus of the first German law clinic for Internet law. He deals with the interactions between the digital world and the law. At iRights.Lab he works as an analyst for Policy & Legal Affairs.

Eike Graef is Policy Advisor at iRights.Lab. His focus is on project development, the creation of concepts for imparting knowledge about digital topics and working on reports and studies.

Henry Steinhau works as a freelance media journalist and author in Berlin, he publishes reports, interviews and articles, backgrounds and columns on media-related topics. He works as a freelance online editor at iRights.info.

Our civil law differentiates between natural and legal persons. Sometimes companies have the same, sometimes similar and sometimes completely different rights and obligations as people. When it comes to the question of whether companies should also have general personal rights, the highest authorities take different positions. The Federal Court of Justice answers this question in the affirmative, the Federal Constitutional Court only tolerates this case law.

Personal rights - Can companies assert personal rights? License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (infografiker.com)

The starting point for the assessment is Article 19 of the Basic Law. According to this, basic rights also apply to companies "insofar as they are essentially applicable to them." What is meant by this is that the fundamental right concerned is linked to a characteristic that only people and companies have equally. This becomes clear, for example, with the right to life and physical integrity. Companies do not have flesh and blood bodies and a mind that makes them legally competent and, from a certain age, also competent. This characteristic only applies to humans. On the other hand, people and companies do have other characteristics. Both of them can buy an apartment or hold a meeting. Thus, they can also invoke the fundamental right to the inviolability of the home and enjoy the protection of the freedom of assembly guaranteed by the fundamental rights. It must therefore always be checked very carefully for every fundamental right whether it is also applicable to companies. The benchmark is whether the (legal) "penetration" of the natural persons behind the company appears to be possible: the formation and operation of the company must be an expression of the free development of the natural person behind the company.

This is particularly difficult with personal rights. The question arises as to whether companies have any claim to social respect at all. However, it is now largely recognized that companies have a right to informational self-determination and the protection of their business honor. The protection against false claims that affect companies economically is expressly regulated in Section 824 of the German Civil Code (BGB) and must be given priority. (In addition, there is also a "right to a company", the scope of which, however, is similarly indefinite as the scope of protection of the general personal right.) The regulations on intentional immoral damage (Section 826 BGB) and the law against unfair disputes among competitors also have priority Competition (UWG). Since companies regularly operate publicly in the market and have to face any criticism, not every slight impairment is sufficient for an infringement. Often other interests prevail, such as freedom of expression or the public interest in information. The situation is different if the company's public reputation is significantly impaired, for example by a deceptively real-looking but fake press release or if it is covered with lies and defamatory criticism.

It should be noted that corporate privacy protection is generally much less pronounced than that of people. Because the general right of personality is primarily based on human dignity, which is absolutely protected by Article 1 of the Basic Law. However, companies obviously cannot invoke human dignity. There is no comparable "corporate dignity". That would not be appropriate either, since a company has no intimate or private life. In addition, companies usually take part in market events. So you step into the public eye of your own free will. As with humans, this also leads to weaker protection. This decreases even further, the better known and more influential the company is, as it then has to face the more criticism.

Another special feature is that companies cannot claim compensation for a particularly serious violation of personal rights (previously referred to as compensation for pain and suffering). A company cannot feel pain suffered or lost joie de vivre, which should be compensated for, as well as satisfaction. Unlike in the USA, for example, the compensation payment in Germany does not serve to punish someone (so-called "punitive damage").