Starting last Friday, Google users in Germany were no longer able to check their GMail accounts for new messages. A cryptic message on the Google homepage only left users with more questions.

According to The Local, an English language German news site, the message that appeared stated:

“We can’t provide service under the Gmail name in Germany; we’re called Google Mail here instead. If you’re traveling in Germany, you can access your mail at http://mail.google.com. Oh, and we’d like to link the URL above, but we’re not allowed to do that either. Bummer.”

Not allowed? That’s weird. But Google is adhering to a German court decision that it is not technically ‘legally obligated’ to recognize.

A German businessman, Daniel Giersch, owns the ‘Gmail’ copyright in Germany. He has been suing Google for its use in his country since 2005. As of the summer of 2007, a German court officially ruled that Google would be infringing on Mr. Giersch’s copyright if it allowed Google users to link to their ‘Gmail accounts’, as they were formerly called. Instead, Google is referring to the email service as the painfully arduous ‘Google Mail’ in Germany.

Speaking of painfully arduous, German Googlers are required to manually copy and paste the “http://mail.google.com” URL into their browsers. WTF? That’s so totally year 1996 web surfing right there.

Stefan Keuchel, a Google spokesperson told The Local:

“This will in no way affect our ability to provide email to our users in Germany who will continue to enjoy the same experience as all other users, wherever they are in the world.”

That’s gotta be annoying for all those Germans looking for great e-mail service. Somehow I think Daniel Giersch’s ‘Gmail’ is inferior to Google’s version, but that’s just an assumption I came up with because his is a paid email subscription service. Who wants that?

The Local: Google loses right to Gmail name in Germany, June 23, 2008