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Basic translation mistakes: Imprint doesn’t impress anyone

25. August 2015

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 12.20.26Frustratingly, the English versions of many German websites still insist upon using imprint or impress as translations of “Impressum.” I know that I am not the first translator to take up this baton, but it seems that, despite the best efforts of a number of very experienced and committed translators, little has changed. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at why this far from an ideal translation and present some alternatives for the international websites of German companies.

Why is an Impressum important (and why does it seem to cause so many problems)?

Almost anyone who operates a website in Germany is required by German law (§5 TMG) to publish certain information about the company and/or individuals responsible for the website. This information has to be prominently displayed, visible and accessible on their website. A website operator also has to ensure that these details are accurate, complete and up-to-date. The legislation does not actually contain the word “Impressum”—it refers to “Informationspflichten”—but almost everywhere you look, this is what you’ll find, the terminology having been adopted from the more traditional field of print media. As a matter of fact, although they are free to do so, it’s extremely difficult to find a German website that chooses an alternative label.

Newspapers are one thing, websites are another

In relation to magazines and newspapers published in Germany, the requirements are set out in each federal state’s press regulations. The purpose of such regulation is clear: if an article contained in a German publication in some way infringes on the rights of one of its readers, the reader (and their lawyers) need to know exactly who to launch legal proceedings against. The “Impressum” in newspapers and magazines needs to provide the names and addresses of the responsible editors, publishers and printers. For each section of a newspaper it is often necessary to publish the details of the editors responsible for the respective department/desk.

Go to the source

Legislation in the UK, despite also being part of the European Union, is quite different—which is the major reason that we see so many “imprints” on English versions of German websites. If websites in English-speaking countries were subject to the same regulations, it would be no problem for German website operators (and translators) to spend 20 minutes or so visiting a few websites to see how equivalent companies deal with this. Come to think of it, even though legislation is different, a bit of research internet surfing definitely wouldn’t hurt. At least people here in Germany might notice that no—and I really do mean no—English-language website produced by native English speakers ever contains a section with the title “imprint.”

Why you should never use “imprint” online

As mentioned above, the evolution of legal requirements is extremely country-specific and means that certain concepts, titles or specifications may end up existing in one country, or group of countries, and not in others. So, I hear you ask, why does English have the word “imprint” if we aren’t allowed to use it on our websites? Well, English also has the word “handy”, but it is not used to refer to mobile (or cell) phones, is it?

An imprint, apart from being an impression made by a hard object pressed down onto a softer object, can be used in the world of print publishing to refer to a publisher’s trade name. If you read a book in English and look at the publisher’s details near the beginning, you might see something like, “Published by XYZ, an imprint of ABC.” In the UK it also became a legal requirement (in 1961) for printers to publish their name and address at the front or back of any paper or book they print. Newspapers in the UK also have to publish what is known as a “masthead”, providing details of their owners, board members/trustees, etc.

What to use instead?

Context is everything and online is not print! So, what to use instead? There are a number of options:

  • About (or variations such as “About this website”, “About us,” “About xyz.com,”etc.). The problem here may be that, depending on the specific context and design of the website, “about” could be too general—a user might expect to find information on the company and it’s products/services, rather than the information required by law to identify the site’s operators. The London School of Economics and Politics has an “About this website” section, along with a “Terms of use” page detailing its disclaimer and privacy policy, amongst other relevant content.
  • Website information/Site information. This is a very popular choice across a wide range of websites, both those that originate in Germany and those that originate in English-speaking countries. This can even be combined as “Site information / Disclaimer” to highlight the fact that the page also contains details of any risks, liabilities and responsibilities associated with use of the website. The Bundesamt für Naturschutz has opted for this as a menu button on its website.
  • Legal notice. This is another favourite, particularly as the German “Impressum” often also includes s substantial amount of legalese and a disclaimer (Haftungsauschluss) alongside the operator’s contact details. The European Commission, for example, has chosen this option on its website.
  • Contact. A straightforward alternative if the purpose of the page is to provide a website’s visitors with a physical address and other real-world contact options.  

Are you a translator with a loathing for “imprint”? Do you have any other pet peeves? Feel free to share in our comments section below.

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