Australia’s “biggest climate polluter” takes Greenpeace to court | Climate Change News


Canberra, Australia -After AGL accused environmental organizations of abusing copyright and trademark laws, Greenpeace Australia Pacific will confront Australia’s largest power generator AGL Energy Limited in court on Wednesday.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific used the AGL logo in a satirical advertising campaign launched in early May 2021. The event aims to promote a new report from Greenpeace Australia Pacific, which aims to raise public awareness of the fact that AGL is Australia’s “largest climate polluter”.

The event features the AGL logo and Greenpeace logo. AGL’s legal team will argue in court that this violates Australia’s trademark and copyright laws.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific stated that these advertisements are obviously ironic and no one will mistake them for the official promotional materials of AGL.

“By imitating the AGL brand in our advertising campaigns, we hope to attract the attention of the public. Although AGL shows the public a front-facing front with a focus on renewable energy, it is more responsible for climate pollution than any other company. To the country,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior activist Glen Walker told Al Jazeera.

“Although AGL is Australia’s largest operator of coal-fired power stations, it has an undeserved reputation as an organization that is a leader in renewable energy.

“The AGL brand is a false frontline and a mature ironic target.”

Australia’s “dirty polluter”

AGL generates and provides electricity in several states in Australia.

It provides electricity to nearly one-third of Australian households, generating more than 11,000 megawatts, accounting for approximately 20% of Australia’s national energy market.

But it relies heavily on coal-fired power plants to generate electricity.

General counsel Katrina Bullock and senior activist Glenn Walker with CEO David Ritter (middle) [Courtesy of James Zobel/Greenpeace]

According to its own data, as much as 85% of the company’s electricity comes from coal. Only 10% will come from renewable energy in 2020.

Nevertheless, AGL, which is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), is increasingly promoting itself as an environmentally responsible company. Its promotional materials boast that it “follows renewable energy” and is “the largest renewable energy investor listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.”

The activities of Greenpeace Australia Pacific specifically address these propositions. The organization believes that AGL is actually “Australia’s largest contributor to climate change”, causing more than 42 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019-2020.

These claims are supported by data from the Australian Government’s Clean Energy Regulatory Agency[1]The agency’s National Greenhouse and Energy Report statistics show that AGL’s emissions account for more than 8% of Australia’s total emissions, more than twice that of Australia’s second largest emitter.

Katrina Bullock, general counsel of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said that it is worth noting that AGL has not denied these allegations.

“AGL did not refute the headlines that they are Australia’s dirtiest polluter,” Bullock told Al Jazeera.

“AGL claims that their logo is [Greenpeace Australia Pacific] Campaigning is an abuse of trademarks,” she said.

“But in Australia, the trademark law is only violated when the specific trademark is used in the course of trade. This is an environmental movement that does not sell products or services.”

In addition, the lawyer pointed out that Australian copyright has a “fair trade exception” to allow satire and criticism. This means that copyrighted brand elements (such as logos) can be used in the public comment process.

Bullock described this case as “a silent strategy used to suppress criticism and suppress criticism.”

‘SLAPP Suite’

“This is a strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP),” said Rebecca Gilsonnan, Morris Blackburn’s chief attorney, which provides legal support for Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

“From a legal point of view, you have to ask yourself: Does AGL really care about the use of their logo?” Gilsonan asked.

“Or is it because Greenpeace called on them to wash greens?”

Workers at the AGL Liddell Power Station in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia. According to its website, the company plans to close the plant by 2022, but has extended its service life to April 2023. [File: Dan Himbrechts/EPA]

The SLAPP lawsuit is a lawsuit designed to intimidate critics into self-censorship, because legal defense will bring a heavy financial burden. The main goal is to get key individuals or organizations to abandon the attack.

“SLAPP litigation is well known in other countries, but it is not common in Australia,” Gilsonnan explained. “These’SLAPP suits’ have a chilling effect on the campaign and anyone else who might want to criticize. [AGL’s] activity. “

AGL refuted these claims, arguing that the case was purely to prevent “illegal use of the AGL brand.”

“AGL does not intend to kill public debate,” an AGL spokesperson said in a comment on Al Jazeera. “However, we reserve the right to defend our brand in accordance with Australian law.”

AGL initially contacted Greenpeace Australia Pacific one day after the event started and sent a stop letter. Soon after, AGL took legal action to demand an emergency injunction against Greenpeace Australia Pacific to stop using the AGL brand.

The matter was heard in court within a few 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 hearing on June 2.

SLAPP suits are rare in Australia

The last major SLAPP lawsuit in Australia was in 2005. Forestry company Gunns took 20 individuals and organizations to court, accusing them of disrupting its business by deliberately sabotaging and beating workers.

Gunns alleges that the defendant caused the company to lose its jobs and profits. Defendants, including Bob Brown, the leader of the Australian Green Party at the time, argued that they were only protecting the environment.

Five years later, Gunns finally abandoned the claims against several critics, and the Supreme Court of Victoria ordered the defendants to be paid. All other claims have been resolved.

Brown said in 2007: “This action harms freedom of speech and the well-being of the forest. It’s not that the logging industry is called [for breaching environmental law]Those who go to court are those who want to uphold our country’s environmental legislation. “

Former Green Party leader Bob Brown (left) is a veteran environmentalist. In 2005, the SLAPP lawsuit filed by forestry company Gunns became a target.Five years later, the company dropped the lawsuit [File: Erik Anderson/EPA]

Only the Australian Capital Territory has legislation to prevent SLAPP litigation.

Potentially strong precedent

The outcome of AGL v. Greenpeace Australia Pacific may have a significant impact on public criticism in Australia.

“Winning this case will set a strong precedent for how the court can use the fair trade exception,” said Bullock of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

She explained: “This case can determine what is considered fair use.” “This will allow people to satire and imitate without worrying about litigation.”

Other environmental and climate organizations are closely monitoring developments. Thirteen groups including Conservation Australia and Friends of the Earth Australia signed a letter to AGL at the end of May, calling on the company to abandon legal proceedings.

The letter said: “We believe this is a direct affront to freedom of speech and our organization’s ability to hold companies accountable for emergency climate action.

“We firmly believe that it is important for charities, non-profit organizations, comedians and community members to retain the right to criticize, imitate and ridicule companies for using their logos and threatening litigation.


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