14. August 2013
The vehicle rental company, Sixt, has announced it is withdrawing its advertising campaign which featured the image of Gustl Mollath along with a controversial statement. The image and statement had been used without Mollath’s consent.
Sixt apologises to Gustl Mollath
Erich Sixt, chief executive of Sixt, apologised personally to Gustl Mollath by letter after his company used an image of Mollath accompanied by a controversial statement in an advertising campaign without first obtaining consent.
The explanation given for using Gustl Mollath’s image was that the company has always sought to create provocative advertisements based on satirical representations of current events.
But Sixt explained that the company does have a principle of ensuring that individuals’ personal feelings are not insulted and that individuals do not feel degraded. He accepted that the portrayal of Gustl Mollath in the German newspaper, “Süddeutsche Zeitung” did not do Mollath justice.
Legal but tasteless
The threshold between personality rights and the right to freedom of expression is fluid. In this case, Sixt’s right to freely depict figures of contemporary history in a satirical manner for advertising purposes was to be balanced against Mollath’s personality rights. These rights find their limit so far as a particular portrayal does not degrade or defame someone.
Christian Solmecke, Partner at the media law firm Wilde Beuger Solmecke, reached the conclusion that while the advertisement was tasteless, it was probably not illegal.
“The poster campaign makes a satirical reference to Gustl Mollath’s release and does not damage his reputation. Also, the poster image does not indicate that Mollath identifies himself with the vehicle-rental company,” Solmecke explained.
“Mollath was not depicted as being crazy. Nevertheless, the advertisement did push the boundaries of decency. A person who exposed to the lime light by a traumatic legal ordeal, should not then be the victim of a tasteless advertising campaign,” Solmecke stated.
In the face of growing criticism, demonstrated by the hundreds of negative comments on the company’s Facebook fan page, Sixt has now voluntarily agreed to withdraw the campaign. However, the episode may not be over for the company. Gustl Mollath’s lawyer had originally announced intentions to take legal action against Sixt.
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