Canberra, Australia -Greenpeace Australia Pacific will fight against Australia’s largest electricity generator AGL Energy Ltd in court on Wednesday, after AGL accused the environmental organization of abusing copyright and trademark laws.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific used the AGL logos in a satirical advertisement campaign launched in early May 2021. The campaign was designed to promote a new report from Greenpeace Australia Pacific aimed at raising public awareness. fact that AGL is Australia’s “most polluting climate”.
The campaign featured the AGL logo in conjunction with Greenpeace. AGL’s legal team will argue in court that it violates both Australian trademark and copyright law.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific says the ads are clearly satirical in nature, and no one is confused to think that the materials are officially AGL’s promotional material.
“By parodying the AGL brand in our ad campaign, we want to give the public attention that, while AGL is appearing in front of the public, innovatively focused in front of the public, it is responsible for many climate pollution than any other company in the country, ”Greenpeace Australia Pacific Senior Campaigner, Glenn Walker told Al Jazeera.
“Despite being the largest operator of coal-fired power stations in Australia, AGL enjoys an undeserved reputation as an organization as an innovative leader in energy.
“The AGL brand is a wrong front, and a ripe target for ridicule.”
Australia’s “dirty dirt”
AGL manufactures and supplies electricity to many states across Australia.
It provides energy to almost one-third of Australian households and has the capacity to generate more than 11,000 megawatts, representing about 20 per cent of Australia’s National Energy Market.
But it relies on charcoal -fired plants to produce that power.
Up to 85 percent of the company’s power comes from coal, according to its own data. Only 10 percent will be from renewable energy by 2020.
Despite this, AGL, which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) has increasingly established itself as an environmentally responsible company. Its publicity materials boast that it is “behind the changes” and “the largest investor listed on the ASX at renewed strength”.
The Greenpeace Australia Pacific campaign specifically targeted these claims. The group argues that AGL is indeed “Australia’s largest global owner of climate change”, responsible for more than 42 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019-2020.
The claims are supported by data from the Clean Energy Regulator of the Australian Government. National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting statistics show that AGL emissions represent more than 8 per cent of Australia’s total emissions, more than twice the amount of Australia’s next-largest emitter.
Katrina Bullock, general adviser to Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said it was surprising that AGL had not denied these allegations.
“AGL has not denied the headline claim that they are the dirtiest polluter in Australia,” Bullock told Al Jazeera.
“AGL said the use of their logo on [Greenpeace Australia Pacific] the campaign is a trademark abuse, ”he said.
“But in Australia, trademark law is only violated if you use the specific mark in the marketing flow. It is an environmental campaign that does not sell a product or service. ”
In addition, lawyers have shown that there is a “fair exception to the treaty” on copyright in Australia to allow ridicule and criticism. This means that elements of the copyright -protected mark, such as logos, can be used in the flow of public comment.
Bullock described the case as a “silence tactic used to silence criticism and suppress it”.
“This is the strategic hearing against public participation (SLAPP),” said Rebecca Gilsenan, chief lawyer at Maurice Blackburn, the firm that provides legal support to Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
“From a legal perspective, you have to ask yourself: is AGL really concerned about using their logo?” Gilsenan asked.
“Or is it because Greenpeace called them for greenwashing?”
A SLAPP suit is a lawsuit aimed at intimidating critics into censoring themselves because of the high financial burden of adding a legal defense. The primary purpose for the critical individual or organization is to abandon their attacks.
“The SLAPP hearing is known in other countries but it is not common in Australia,” Gilsenan explained. “These‘ SLAPP suits ’have a pleasing impact on the campaign as well as anyone else who wants to criticize [AGL’s] activities. ”
AGL denies the claims, arguing the case is purely about preventing “unlawful use of the AGL brand”.
“AGL has no intention of stifling public debate,” an AGL spokesperson said in a comment to Al Jazeera. “We, however, reserve our rights to protect our brand under Australian law.”
AGL first contacted Greenpeace Australia Pacific a day after the launch of the campaign, sending a stop and stop letter. Legal action was launched immediately afterwards, asking AGL for an urgent order against Greenpeace Australia Pacific to stop using the AGL mark.
The case was heard over the course of several days, but the court rejected the application and did not order the removal of the materials.
What happens next depends on the outcome of the June 2 hearing.
SLAPP suits are rare in Australia
The last major SLAPP suit in Australia was in 2005. The Gunns Forest company has brought 20 individuals and organizations to court for allegedly damaging its business by cracking down and attacking workers.
Gunns said the defendants caused the company to lose jobs and profits. The defendants, who were with former Australian Greens leader Bob Brown, argued they were simply protecting the environment.
Gunns later dropped its claims against several critics after five years and ordered the Victorian Supreme Court to pay the defendants ’costs. All other claims have been settled.
“Freedom of speech, as well as the well -being of the forest, was compromised by this action,” Brown said in 2007. “Instead the logging industry was delivered [for breaching environmental law], it is those who want to override our law in the national nature that are in court. ”
Only the Australian Capital Territory has legislation to prevent SLAPP suits.
Potentially strong example
The outcome of the AGL vs Greenpeace Australia Pacific case could have a significant impact on public criticism in Australia.
“Winning this case will set a strong example of how fair exemption is used in the courts,” said Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Bullock.
“This case can determine what is considered fair use,” he explained. “It will allow people to be ridiculed and parody without fear of trial.”
Other unions and climate unions are closely watching the developments. Thirteen groups, including the Australian Conservation Foundation and Friends of the Earth Australia, signed a letter to AGL at the end of May, calling on the company to drop legal action.
“We see this as a direct insult to free speech and the ability of our organizations to keep corporations accountable for urgent climate change,” the letter said.
“We firmly believe critically that charities, not-for-profits, comedians and community members have the right to criticize, parody and ridicule corporations using their logo with the threat of litigation.”