Canberra, Australia – Greenpeace Australia Pacific will face off on Wednesday against Australia’s largest electricity generator AGL Energy Ltd, after AGL accused the environmental organization of abusing copyright and trademark laws.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific used the AGL logos in a satirical advertising campaign launched in early May 2021. The campaign was developed to promote a new Greenpeace Australia Pacific report aimed at raising public awareness of the fact that AGL is “Australia’s largest climate polluter”.
The campaign includes the AGL logo alongside the Greenpeace logo. The AGL legal team will argue in court that this violates trademark and copyright law in Australia.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific claims that the ads are clearly satirical in nature and that no one can be confused into thinking that the materials are official AGL promotional materials.
“Parodying the AGL brand in our advertising campaign, we want to draw the public’s attention to the fact that, while AGL presents the public with a future-oriented approach, focused on renewables, it is responsible for more climate pollution than any other company. of the country, “Glenn Walker told Al Jazeera, a senior Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaign.
“Despite being the largest operator of coal-fired power plants in Australia, AGL enjoys an undeserved reputation as a leading renewable energy organization.
“The AGL brand is a false front and a mature target of satire.”
Australia’s “dirtiest polluter”
AGL generates and supplies electricity to several states in Australia.
It provides energy to almost a third of Australian households and has a generation capacity of more than 11,000 megawatts, which accounts for approximately 20% of Australia’s national energy market.
But it depends heavily on coal-fired power plants to generate that energy.
Up to 85% of the company’s energy comes from coal, according to its own data. Only 10% came from renewable energy sources in 2020.
Despite this, AGL, which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), is increasingly being promoted as an environmentally responsible company. His advertising materials boast that he is “just behind renewables” and that he is “the largest investor in renewables listed on the ASX.”
The Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaign is specifically targeted at these claims. The group argues that AGL is actually “Australia’s main national contributor to climate change”, responsible for more than 42 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019-2020.
The claims are backed by data from the Australian government’s clean energy regulator. The agency’s greenhouse gas and energy information statistics show that AGL emissions account for more than 8 per cent of Australia’s total emissions, more than double the amount of the next largest emitter. of Australia.
Katrina Bullock, general counsel for Greenpeace Australia Pacific, says it should be noted that AGL does not deny these allegations.
“AGL does not refute the main claim that it is the most polluting in Australia,” Bullock told Al Jazeera.
“AGL states that the use of its logo in the [Greenpeace Australia Pacific] the campaign was a trademark abuse, ”he said.
“But in Australia, trademark law is only infringed if you use that particular trademark in the course of trade. It is an environmental campaign that does not sell any product or service.
In addition, lawyers point out that there is an “exception in fair treatment” to copyright in Australia in order to allow satire and criticism. This means that copyrighted trademark elements, such as logos, can be used during public comment.
Bullock described the case as a “silence tactic that is used to silence criticism and suppress it.”
“This is a strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP),” said Rebecca Gilsenan, lead attorney for Maurice Blackburn, the company that provides legal support to Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
“From a legal perspective, you have to ask yourself: does AGL really care about the use of its logo?” Gilsenan asked.
“Or is it because Greenpeace calls them to wash greens?”
A SLAPP lawsuit is a lawsuit that aims to intimidate critics into censoring themselves because of the high financial burden that legal defense entails. The main goal is for the critical individual or organization to abandon their attacks.
“SLAPP litigation is well known in other countries, but it is not common in Australia,” Gilsenan explained. “These” SLAPP dresses “have a creepy effect on the campaign and anyone else who wants to criticize [AGL’s] activities “.
AGL rejects the allegations, arguing that the case is solely about preventing “illegal use of the AGL brand.”
“AGL has no intention of drowning out public debate,” an AGL spokeswoman said in a comment to Al Jazeera. “However, we reserve the right to defend our brand under Australian law.”
AGL initially contacted Greenpeace Australia Pacific a day after the campaign launched, sending a letter of cessation. Shortly afterwards legal action was taken and AGL requested urgent instruction against Greenpeace Australia Pacific to stop the use of the AGL mark.
The matter was heard in a few days, but the court rejected the request and did not order the materials removed.
What happens next depends on the outcome of the June 2 hearing.
SLAPP dresses are rare in Australia
The last significant SLAPP lawsuit in Australia was in 2005. The forestry company Gunns brought to justice 20 people and organizations for allegedly disrupting their business by vandalism and worker aggression.
Gunns claimed the defendants had resulted in the loss of jobs and company profits. The defendants, who then included Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, argued that they were simply protecting the environment.
Gunns eventually dropped his claims against several critics after five years and the Victoria Supreme Court ordered him to pay the defendants’ costs. The remaining claims were resolved.
“Freedom of demonstration, as well as the well-being of forests, are compromised by this action,” Brown said in 2007. “Instead of the forest industry being prosecuted. [for breaching environmental law], those who want to defend our national environmental legislation are the ones who go to court. “
Only the territory of the Australian capital has legislation in place to deter SLAPP processes.
Potentially powerful precedent
The outcome of the AGL vs Greenpeace Australia Pacific case could have a significant effect on public criticism in Australia.
“Winning this case would set a powerful precedent on how courts use the fair treatment exception,” Bullock of Greenpeace Australia Pacific said.
“This case could establish what would be considered a legitimate use,” he explained. “This would allow people to satirize and parody without fear of litigation.”
Other environmental and climate organizations are closely monitoring developments. Thirteen groups, including the Australian Conservation Foundation and Friends of the Earth Australia, signed a letter to AGL in late May asking the company to withdraw legal action.
“We see this as a direct affront to freedom of expression and the ability of our organizations to hold companies accountable for urgent climate action,” the letter said.
“We strongly believe that it is critical that charities, nonprofits, comedians and community members retain the right to criticize, parody and satirize companies that use their logo with the threat of litigation.”