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Greenpeace triumphs over Australia's biggest climate polluter, AGL, in the Federal Court

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

On 8 June 2021environmental charity Greenpeace Australia Pacific triumphed over AGL Energy in a landmark intellectual property judgement in the Federal Court.

The coal giant launched legal action against the environmental charity following the launch of a Greenpeace campaign exposing AGL as Australia’s biggest corporate climate polluter. AGL unsuccessfully alleged that Greenpeace should remove any identifying AGL logos from its campaign because their use allegedly breached AGL's trademark rights and copyright.

The honourable Justice Burley held that Greenpeace had not breached AGL's trademark as its use of the mark was not in the course of trade.

There is a freedom of expression safeguard in the Copyright Act known as "fair dealing" which allows for the use of copyrighted material where the use is a fair dealing for the purpose of review, criticism, parody or satire.

Katrina says "this case sets a powerful precedent about how the "fair dealing" exception is applied by the courts which we believe will allow other charities, not for profits, grassroots organisations, comedians and members of the community to use a company's logos to run more impactful campaigns which review, criticise, parody and satirise, without fearing litigation".

In the lead up to the hearing, many charities called on AGL to drop the lawsuit in a open letter available here which labels AGL’s legal action against the charity as an attack on civil society and a direct affront to free speech.

The court's judgment is available here.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific was represented in the proceedings by Rebecca Gilsenan and Katherine McCallum from Maurice Blackburn, Frances St John and Neil Murray SC of Tenth Floor Chambers.

Video: Sam Burbury from NBN Television News covered the action and excitement outside the courthouse after the historic judgment was announced.

Pictured: Katrina Bullock (General Counsel) speaks at AGL v Greenpeace Court Hearing press conference, before the case was heard.

Pictured: Activists in front of the Federal Court of Australia on the morning of the hearing protesting AGL's attempt to burden freedom of speech by suing the charity

Pictured: Supporters of the charity celebrate on the court steps after the judgment is announced.

Pictured: Katrina speaks at a press conference after the judgment is read.

Pictured from left to right: Greenpeace Australia Pacific General Counsel Katrina Bullock, CEO David Ritter and Senior Campaigner Glenn Walker.

Katrina sat down with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)'s Damien Carrick to discuss the case and its implications for freedom of expression. Podcast available here (begins 9:25 mins in).

Katrina also penned an op ed in the Canberra Times available here outlining why, in her view this was a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP Suit) designed to censor and intimidate AGL's critics to stifle discourse around AGL's contribution to the climate crisis.

Greenpeace's media briefing available here provides background on other SLAPP law suits.

The case attracted intense media coverage, generating over 1,500 unique news stories nationally and internationally in publications from the Washington Post and the Seattle time to the New Indian Express.

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