According to the March 10, 2008 issue of C&EN, a number of US PhD scientists working at Max Planck are facing charges for illegal use of the title “Dr.” According to the article, the title Dr is reserved for graduates of EU universities. From C&EN-

According to German criminal law, the title “Dr.” is reserved only for individuals who received a doctoral degree from a European Union institution, explains Erik Kraatz, a criminal lawyer at the Free University, Berlin. Kraatz notes that the law also prohibits masquerading as a police officer, medical doctor, or professor.

Indeed, to legally use the title “Dr.” in Germany, foreign-trained scientists must request permission from their local German state government. With this state-level consent, they can use the title “Dr.” anywhere in the country. But without the state’s permission to use the title, a scientist breaks two laws: the state law requiring approval to use the “Dr.” title and the federal impersonation law, Kraatz says.

Breaking the state law is punishable with a fine akin to that associated with a traffic ticket. However, breaking the federal law is punishable by a larger fine or up to one year in jail, Kraatz adds.

This is a very hard-core, nanny-state policy to apply to an honorific. Golly. To avoid trouble with Interpol, I’ll make sure to change my business cards and my email lest I be mistaken for a physician wannabe.  Heavens.  We don’t want that. \;-)

Hopefully someone in the German legislature will propose a reform for this ridiculous law.