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I am creating an online forum where users can communicate and exchange ideas with no public content. This means that the website does not have any commercial activities, and it does not engage in any form of advertising, selling or promoting products or services.

I would like to know if it is allowed to use a pseudonym in the Impressum instead of my real name. I understand that the Impressum is a legal requirement for websites and it's used to ensure transparency and make it easy for customers to contact the website owner, but I would like to maintain a level of privacy.

In my country, the general usage of pseudonyms is allowed (even the use of a pseudonym in a signature is legally binding and permissible as long as the person in question can be identified without doubt.) However, I am unsure if this applies to the Impressum of a website.

The website could be hosted outside of Germany (for example UK) if this changes the legal requirements. I'm planning to use AWS for hosting. The best case would be a solution where I just have to put my mail address in the Impressum.

I would appreciate any guidance or advice on this matter. Thank you in advance for your help.

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    If you want to be safe: An initial consultancy with a lawyer of the field may be cheaper than you think and asking for a price is usually free.
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 17, 2023 at 9:07

1 Answer 1

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You won't be able to get around self-doxxing yourself.

§ 5 Abs 1 TMG requires tele-media service providers like you to list

den Namen und die Anschrift, unter der sie niedergelassen sind

the name and the address where they reside or are established

Similarly, Art 13(1) GDPR requires you to provide

the identity and the contact details of the controller

In a German context, it is generally accepted that both of these involve a ladungsfähige Anschrift, i.e. a street address where you could be served with a lawsuit (not a post box).

These requirements exist for both natural persons and legal entities, and for both businesses and non-commercial activities. The TMG Impressumspflicht talks about “geschäftsmäßige, in der Regel gegen Entgelt angebotene Telemedien” but in practice this only requires that the service could be paid (not that you're actually making any money), and that the service is offered routinely/business-like (not necessarily commercially).

It does not matter where your service is hosted as long as you live in Germany.

The TMG and GDPR might not apply if the forum is run purely privately, e.g. if it is only made available to a few close friends or family members.

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  • Thanks for your clear answer. With "this only requires that the service could be paid" you mean offering a paid service or that I pay the hosting? I do not offer anything, not even donations because currently I also do not pay any hosting fees.
    – Fritz
    Jan 17, 2023 at 7:29
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    @Fritz you should be fine then, however, "geschäftsmäßigkeit" is an even further (wider) defined thing than buisness activity. However, if you have nothing to do with money at all (no ads no donation system [even just between other forum members], no paypal donation link whatever) you should be good. On the other hand: This is a ridiculously badly defined term and so you are open to lawsuits about it (which you have a good chance of winning but still)
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 17, 2023 at 8:59
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    In addition to this: Even with 0 ad banners and the likes, if the website is to showcase other commercial work (like, a forum for the donation-based videogame you're developing) it is commercial again. It's a mess tbh
    – Hobbamok
    Jan 17, 2023 at 9:02
  • It will be just user content, no content from myself except rules, faq and so on. Commercial content from users will be strictly forbidden since it should not be a marketplace in any kind, just a discussion platform about a specific hobby. Users can however chat in private, so I do not have any influence what the do there since I'm not allowed to look inside of them I think.
    – Fritz
    Jan 17, 2023 at 10:12
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    @Fritz It doesn't matter whether your specific platform hosts commercial content, only if similar media offerings are typically offered commercially. The TMG will typically apply to all German websites. Even if it doesn't, that would only absolve you from the TMG requirements, not from the broadly equivalent GDPR requirements. The only relevant GDPR exception is for “purely personal or household purposes” which must be interpreted narrowly, which is why I mention family and close friends in my answer.
    – amon
    Jan 17, 2023 at 15:10

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