Crimes via Facebook & Co. now “Content-Oriented” instead of “Medium-Oriented” Offenses © Emile Perron/Unsplash

The German Bundestag has passed a new law that replaces the term “material” in the German Criminal Code with the term “content.” The change reflects a move to recognize the changing communication and media landscape – particularly the shift away from paper and outdated media carriers to modern communication channels such as social media platforms and live streaming. With the implementation of the new law, the Bundestag has acted on a proposal that the former director of the Max Planck Institute, Ulrich Sieber, made many years ago.

To better correspond with modern forms of communication, the German Bundestag has passed a law according to which the term “material” in the German Criminal Code will be replaced by “content.” The new law enters into force on January 1, 2021.

The new law’s draft states that the criminal law understanding and use of the term “material” (Section 11 (3), German Criminal Code) fails to reflect modern forms of offending. Punishable content is no longer primarily disseminated through print and offline media but rather digitally using modern information and communication technologies (especially the Internet). In many instances, content is only recorded fleetingly and “immaterially,” for example in the case of live streams. With the new approach, criminal liability should no longer be medium-oriented but rather content-oriented.

The law implements a suggestion made by professor emeritus Ulrich Sieber. Sieber, who was a director at the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg from 2003 to 2019, previously explained in a 2012 expert report* that the terms “material” and “material offenses” had become too narrow for the changing media landscape. Instead, he suggested the terms “content” or “content offenses” – these are the exact terms the law now adopts. The new law’s draft states the use of these terms will “future-proof” this section of the German Criminal Code.