OGer ZH (6.2.18): Appli­ca­ti­on of Art. 3 para. 1 lit. o UWG (ban on spam) fai­led due to de mini­mis threshold

In Febru­ary 2018, the Zurich Supre­me Court pro­tec­ted a non-accep­tance order of the Zurich-Sihl public prosecutor’s office (order UE170371 from 6.2.2018, Swiss­lex). It was about three unso­li­ci­ted e‑mails from a Peru­vi­an law firm, which is the Com­plainant and his office col­le­ague rea­ched. The addres­see, an unna­med (but easi­ly iden­ti­fia­ble) Zurich lawy­er working in the field of intellec­tu­al pro­per­ty law, was so enra­ged by this that he filed a suit with “Stop haras­sing us imme­dia­te­ly with your unso­li­ci­ted bull­shit spamming you fuck­ing crooks!!!” replied (which, by the way, is “not wort­hy of a Zurich lawy­er” accor­ding to the Supre­me Court) and sub­se­quent­ly wro­te an eight-page sub­mis­si­on to the public prosecutor’s office and a twen­ty-page noti­ce of appeal to the Supre­me Court.

Against this back­ground, one would hard­ly want to hold the con­fir­ma­ti­on of the non-accep­tance against the Supre­me Court (and the Fede­ral Supre­me Court has rejec­ted an appeal filed against this in the judgment 6B_468/2018 dis­missed). Howe­ver, the legal rea­so­ning is remarkable:

At first, the OGer wan­ted to lea­ve open whe­ther here at all “Mass adver­ti­sing” within the mea­ning of Art. 3 para. 1 lit. o UWG The public prosecutor’s office had denied this becau­se only two reci­pi­en­ts recei­ved the few incri­mi­na­ted e‑mails. Howe­ver, the sen­ding was appar­ent­ly auto­ma­ted, which would have to suf­fice (cf. mes­sa­ge FMG 2003, BBl 2003 7991: “It is auto­ma­ti­on that makes mass mai­ling of adver­ti­sing pos­si­ble. That is why the term mass adver­ti­sing inclu­des all types of auto­ma­ted adver­ti­sing (auto­ma­ted calls, fax, SMS, email, etc.).”).

The Supre­me Court alre­a­dy con­side­red the facts of the case not to be ful­fil­led for a dif­fe­rent rea­son, alt­hough in the end it did inter­pret the con­cept of mass adver­ti­sing, as will be shown. The court pro­ce­e­ded from the gene­ral clau­se in Art. 2 UWG which is con­cep­tual­ly cor­rect, and based on this limi­t­ed the scope of appli­ca­ti­on of the spe­cial pro­vi­si­on of Art. 3 Para. 1 lit. o UWG one:

The spe­cial facts of Art. 3 – 8 UWG […] are not mere “indu­ce­ment mate­ri­al” under the gene­ral clau­se, nor does the exi­stence of a spe­cial stan­dard neces­s­a­ri­ly lead to a limi­ta­ti­on of the scope of an exami­na­ti­on under unfair com­pe­ti­ti­on law. In the appli­ca­ti­on of the spe­cial facts, which exem­pli­fy unfair con­duct, it is neces­sa­ry to ask about the mea­ning and pur­po­se of such a spe­cial regu­la­ti­on. […] Thus, not every con­duct men­tio­ned in the law is actual­ly sub­ject to the UWG. The­re must be a decep­ti­ve or other­wi­se con­tra­ry to the prin­ci­ple of good faith com­pe­ti­ti­ve act. […] The decisi­ve fac­tor is […] the Over­all impres­si­on that a beha­vi­or lea­ves on the audi­ence. In this con­text, the cus­to­mer can gene­ral­ly be expec­ted to exer­cise a cer­tain degree of judgment, a cer­tain degree of distinc­ti­ve­ness and a cer­tain degree of resi­stance to adver­ti­sing claims […].

Fol­lo­wing this rea­so­ning, the high court jud­ged the incri­mi­na­ted e‑mails not to con­sti­tu­te an offen­se becau­se they vio­la­ted the Unfair­ness thres­hold of Art. 2 UWG not rea­ched:

Obvious­ly, respon­dent 1 or the law firm mana­ged by him direc­ted his e‑mails spe­ci­fi­cal­ly to law firms who­se main acti­vi­ty lies in the legal field of intellec­tu­al pro­per­ty law cul­ti­va­ted by both par­ties. It may be true that by sen­ding the e‑mails, respon­dent 1 hoped that his law firm would one day be con­side­red or pro­po­sed by the com­plainant as cor­re­spon­dent att­or­ney or Peru­vi­an repre­sen­ta­ti­ve of a cli­ent in an inter­na­tio­nal intellec­tu­al pro­per­ty case with a Swiss and Peru­vi­an con­nec­tion. With the fac­tu­al indi­ca­ti­ons to the judi­cial vaca­ti­ons in Peru […], to the ent­ry of two lawy­ers in the law office […] and to the pro­ce­du­re of ente­ring a trade­mark or a patent in an elec­tro­nic regi­ster in Peru, howe­ver, respon­dent 1 acted neither decep­ti­ve nor in any other way con­tra­ry to good faith within the mea­ning of the gene­ral clau­se of Art. 2 UWG and also not intru­si­ve in a par­ti­cu­lar way.


The com­plainant with his pro­fes­sio­nal expe­ri­ence as a lawy­er spe­cia­li­zed in intellec­tu­al pro­per­ty law was easi­ly able to assess the signi­fi­can­ce of the­se mails for hims­elf and his work and also to react to them appro­pria­te­ly. The three e‑mails each con­tain a refe­rence to the pos­si­bi­li­ty of unsub­scrib­ing from the mai­lings of respon­dent 1 […].

And fur­ther:

The three emails on their own cau­sed neither cost con­se­quen­ces nor signi­fi­cant time and psy­cho­lo­gi­cal bur­dens on the part of the complainant. […] 

In con­clu­si­on, the Supre­me Court deri­ves from Art. 2 UWG so a Tri­via­li­ty thres­hold ab: What does not pro­du­ce tan­gi­ble, unde­si­ra­ble con­se­quen­ces is not unfair. This is cor­rect inso­far as the UWG not cover impairm­ents of com­pe­ti­ti­on that are not app­re­cia­ble. One won­ders, howe­ver, whe­ther the Supre­me Court should not have exami­ned this point in the con­text of the ele­ment of mass dan­ger. In that case, the hig­her court would have had to ans­wer the que­sti­on of whe­ther the auto­ma­ti­on of the mai­ling does not fun­da­men­tal­ly exce­ed the de mini­mis thres­hold accor­ding to the legislator’s inten­ti­on, in the sen­se of an abstract end­an­ge­ring offen­se. Becau­se with the cho­sen approach, the upper court avo­ided the ele­ment of mas­si­ve­ness, but in the end ans­we­red it by appar­ent­ly requi­ring a lar­ger num­ber of emails or reci­pi­en­ts (which also cor­re­sponds to a doc­tri­ne on the con­cept of massiveness).

Art. 16 e‑Privacy Regu­la­ti­on (draft)

It is inte­re­st­ing to look at the cor­re­spon­ding regu­la­ti­on under the e‑Privacy Regu­la­ti­on (which will have a very wide ter­ri­to­ri­al scope). The rele­vant Art. 16 does not requi­re mas­si­ve­ness and reads in the For­mu­la­ti­on pro­po­sal from May 4, 2018 as follows:

Artic­le 16 – Unso­li­ci­ted and direct mar­ke­ting communications

1. natu­ral or legal per­sons shall be pro­hi­bi­ted from using elec­tro­nic com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons ser­vices for the pur­po­ses of sen­ding direct mar­ke­ting com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons to end-users who are natu­ral per­sons unless they have given their consent.

2. not­wi­th­stan­ding para­graph 1, whe­re a natu­ral or legal per­son obta­ins cont­act details for elec­tro­nic mes­sa­ge from end-users who are natu­ral per­sons, in the con­text of the sale of a pro­duct or a ser­vice, in accordance with Regu­la­ti­on (EU) 2016/679, that natu­ral or legal per­son may use the­se cont­act details for direct mar­ke­ting of its own simi­lar pro­ducts or ser­vices only if such end-users are cle­ar­ly and distinct­ly given the oppor­tu­ni­ty to object, free of char­ge and in an easy man­ner, to such use. The right to object shall be given at the time of coll­ec­tion of such end-users’ cont­act details and, if that end-user has not initi­al­ly refu­sed that use, each time when a natu­ral or legal per­son sends a mes­sa­ge to that end-user for the pur­po­se of direct marketing.




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