Greenpeace e.V. against Ferdinand Engelbeen

Phil

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Greenpeace e.V. (a German Greenpeace organisation)
vs
Ferdinand Engelbeen (Chairman of Chlorophiles).

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Chlorophiles on the defensive.

In the summer of 1996, Chlorophiles published and distributed free of charge an essay entitled "The Hidden Side of Greenpeace". The essay was a compilation of over 160 references, mostly taken from the international press, with additional personal opinions. This was not what Greenpeace liked to see, so they started a complaint.

Greenpeace e.V. (note 1) started their action against Chlorophiles by notifying Ferdinand Engelbeen that he should retract the points of disagreement under threat of court proceedings. Engelbeen did not give in to this intimidation and consequently Greenpeace e.V. has filed a lawsuit against him.

Since then, the distribution of the "The Hidden Side of Greenpeace" has been voluntarily discontinued by Chlorophiles, and the different language versions that had been published on their Internet website have been retracted. Indeed, Chlorophiles have no intention to promote any illegal activities (!) whatsoever.

Amongst the 15 points of the complaint, 3 points and part of 1 other point have been accepted by the defense:

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THE COURT CASE

Following a public session on 16 January 1998, the Court of Hamburg issued a ruling on 20 March 1998, and the following are extracts in authorised translation from the document that it published at that time:

Court of Hamburg / Final judgement / In the Name of the People
Issued on 20 March 1998

The document comprises 72 pages, which includes the Court's motivation (42 pages). In the following comments, this document is referred to as "(op. cit.)".


Chlorophiles lose.....

Parts of two points of the complaint were lost by Chlorophiles because they were unable to prove that Greenpeace deliberately misleads public opinion or deliberately spreads facts that do not reflect reality.

Another point was lost because it was a quotation that was judged by the Court to be an unacceptable opinion, even a lie. The quotation was produced in due format and properly documented. The statements were quoted from a newspaper and had been expressed by a Member of the European Parliament who was talking about the 'green lobby', not about Greenpeace.

A number of paragraphs of the essay described and mentioned statements and interviews made in video reports by the Icelandic producer Gudmundsson and by Danish Television. The Court of Hamburg ordered that all such statements and interviews be forbidden for further distribution by Ferdinand Engelbeen.

And finally, one point of the complaint was qualified by the Court as slander, according to the Court's definition of the contested wording used in the essay. This concerns the word "mole"


and Chlorophiles win...

Greenpeace is a sect

This is an acceptable opinion, and this point of the complaint is therefore rejected (note 2)

Greenpeace has military-trained activists and creates disturbance

Concerning the wording "military-trained activists", the Court says: "This declaration is indisputably true" (note 3)

Greenpeace's argument "that one can publish exaggerations in a political controversy over ideas" is NOT VALID if they give false impressions

The Court made this comment in connection with the case of a photograph of a hydrocephalus child in a Greenpeace advert used in an anti-nuclear campaign (note 4).

It is a well-known fact that radiation cannot possibly be the cause of hydrocephality!

AND

Greenpeace spreads half-truths about PVC

The Court argues that this statement is true. (op.cit. p.30).
The following explanation is given (op.cit. p 63)

"The reader understands from the actual context of the text that Greenpeace presents facts that are overstated or, even though they give true information about a fact, they do not give all the details, so that at the very least a false impression can be created in the mind of the person receiving the message."

Greenpeace has not countered this (op.cit. p.63):

"However, the defendant has put forward this plea in a sufficiently substantiated manner and this has not been countered by the plaintiff."

Examples (op.cit. p.63-64):

"For example, Manfred Krautter, a member of Greenpeace in Germany apparently acting on behalf of Greenpeace as a PVC expert, said in an interview broadcast on Canadian television that huge concentrations of carbon monoxide are released upon combustion of PVC and that finally carbon monoxide is the hazardous gas that led to the deaths of the people in the building of Dusseldorf airport. This statement can create an impression in the listener that PVC is a particularly hazardous plastic as a higher concentration of carbon monoxide is released when it is burned than is the case with other plastics. However, according to the report of the commission of experts that investigated the fire in Dusseldorf airport, the potential of PVC to form carbon monoxide is roughly the same as that of polystyrol, a plastic that is just as commonly used. In fact, polystyrol has a higher speed of combustion than PVC, and consequently the formation of CO is more rapid with polystyrol than with PVC. Thus, the statement made by Manfred Krautter is an exaggeration of the inherent characteristics of PVC and can be characterised as a half-truth. In addition, the fact that Greenpeace is evidently keeping quiet about the fact that generally PVC has fire-retardant properties and can be described as a not readily flammable substance justifies the dissemination of the disputed statement."

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Further considerations:


A special case:

Point 11 of the Greenpeace complaint is rather peculiar because the Court apparently came to the conclusion that Greenpeace e.V. had not read the essay very well.

Indeed, Greenpeace e.V. demanded that it should be forbidden to repeat the following:

"Greenpeace makes no secret of the fact that under the guise of praiseworthy work to protect nature the organisation is in reality devoted to making a profit, and that the environment and science are being used as merely a pretext."

However, the Court has dismissed this complaint on the following grounds (op. cit. p.68-69):

"Furthermore, the plaintiff is not entitled to the injunction in the writ of summons (paragraph 11) as the request does not cover the actual form of violation. The injunction request must be based on the actual violation, i.e. the injunction claim is limited to the inadmissible statement which the violator has disseminated (cf BGH, GRUR, 1984, 593). This condition is in casu not met because the plaintiff has combined two statements of the defendant into one statement in such a way that it contains a new statement which was not made by the defendant. The defendant made two statements in the press release in question, namely, firstly, that under the guise of praiseworthy work to protect nature the organisation is in reality devoted to "making a profit" and is exploiting the respectable sentiments of citizens, whereby the environment and science are being used as merely a pretext and, secondly, that Greenpeace makes no secret of the fact that the issues of its campaigns are carefully selected according to the financial profit that can be derived from them. Contrary to the statement described by the plaintiff in the writ of summons, the defendant did not maintain that Greenpeace makes no secret of the fact that it is in reality devoted to making a profit. Insofar as the word "also" has been used in this context, this does not mean that Greenpeace is not making a secret of the two complaints, but the reader bases this on the fact that two complaints are to be raised against Greenpeace, namely that Greenpeace in reality is not only devoted to "making a profit", but that, moreover, their campaigns are selected according to the financial profits that can be derived from them."

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EPILOGUE

From this court case and from the motivation of the Court, we can deduce that:

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FOOTNOTES

note 1:

An interesting description of the plaintiff is given in the Court document (op.cit. p.6):

"The plaintiff is an international environmental organisation. In Germany, in addition to the plaintiff there is the association 'Greenpeace Deutsche Sektion e.V.', an association that only carries out so-called environmental actions, and 'Greenpeace Umweltschutzverlag GmbH'. Furthermore, in the Netherlands there is the organisation 'Stichting Greenpeace Council', which has its offices in Amsterdam and is a kind of international umbrella organisation for the national associations. Consequently, it is also referred to as 'Greenpeace International'. This association is the holder of the trademarks 'Greenpeace' and 'Greenpeace International'. In Germany, the plaintiff is the sole licence holder of these trademarks."
note 2 (op.cit. p.69):

"With regard to the statement "Greenpeace is a sect" (writ of summons, paragraph 14), the injunction claim made by the plaintiff does not exist as this is an acceptable expression of opinion."

note 3 (op.cit. p.67):

"Furthermore, the plaintiff is not entitled to the interdict requested by him in the writ of summons (paragraph 8).
It is not disputed between the parties that Greenpeace has millions of sympathisers and military-trained activists (undisputed at least in the case of Paula Huckleberry and Mathew Whiting) and creates disturbances due to this fact."

"The assertion contained directly in the text to the effect that Greenpeace has military-trained activists is indisputably true."

note 4 (op. cit. p.40):

"The plaintiff is mistaken in his suggestion that exaggerations, and this is the case with the advert, may be published in the context of the cut and thrust of political debate. Although this may be the case, this principle does not mean that it is permissible to impose a false impression on the public by knowingly making exaggerations.

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