The German government cannot prohibit the publication of reports on military activities abroad by citing copyright law, a top court ruled on Thursday.
The ruling has, however, given victory to a major newspaper group following a years-long legal battle.
The Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe said that freedom of information and freedom of the press take precedent in such cases.
Reporters from the Funke media group with access to the reports, classified at the lowest level of confidentiality, published them at the end of 2012 on the website of the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (WAZ) newspaper.
Funke said the documents, known as the Afghanistan Papers, showed the government had not been transparent about the true danger posed to German soldiers in the war-torn country.
The German government sued the media group not on grounds of a classification breach, but on grounds that the reports enjoyed copyright status and as such could not be freely disseminated.
Thursday’s court decision did not clarify whether the reports were in fact protected by copyright, ruling only that their publication was lawful as part of news coverage.
This overturned a previous court decision which had come down on the side of the government.
The Federal Court of Justice’s final ruling was based on a previous assessment sought from the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The Funke media group welcomed the outcome as “good news for press freedom.”
“The years-long legal dispute was worth it.
“Today’s judgement should serve to strengthen the media’s function as a watchdog and a publisher of uncomfortable truths,” said Thomas Kloss, co-head of the group in North Rhine Westphalia.
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