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Court: Allegro sales of Nazi symbols can be criticised

The Court of Appeal in Warsaw dismissed the lawsuit of the Allegro Group, the operator of an auction portal, against the Green Light Foundation and J.M. The Court noted that the defendants’ conduct, which consisted in including SS symbols into Allegro’s logo, had been a form of legally acceptable criticism voiced in the exercise of their freedom of expression. The ruling is final.

The case was brought about by the social campaign using the slogan “No more Nazism on Allegro” launched by the Green Light Foundation along with the “Never Again” Association. The campaign also used a drawing with the caption: “No to Nazi gadgets. Stop Allegro”. The drawing showed the logo of the allegro.pl portal with the incorporated emblem of the SS.

Allegro Group sued the Green Light Foundation and J.M., alleging infringement of fair competition and personal interests, namely the fame and reputation of the company.

The Court held that the case involved a conflict of values and noted the historical context relevant to the sales of Nazi memorabilia. The Court decided that the claimant’s good name had definitely been infringed by an interference with the positive public image of Allegro’s business. However, the Green Light Foundation and J.M. used a harsh measure of artistic expression in order to fight the sales of Nazi gadgets on Allegro’s auctions which, in the court’s opinion, constituted a valid legal defence against the suit. The court considered the measure effective as it had actually limited the sales of Nazi items. The defendants were said to have been acting to protect a valuable social interest.

The appellate court also noted that the Circuit Court in Warsaw had exaggerated certain facts of the case, which affected its legal conclusions. In the first instance decision, the Circuit Court held that the Green Light Foundation and J.M. had infringed the goodwill and reputation of the Allegro Group because the modification of the portal’s logo had been an excessive artistic expression. The court ordered the defendants to destroy any and all published material with the modified logo and to publish an apology on the national pages of the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

“The action was organised by a group of activists in response to Allegro’s failure to remove auctions of Nazi memorabilia”, says Irmina Pacho, HFHR. “The activists modified the portal’s logo in a satirical way, in order to enhance their objection to Allegro’s conduct. Yet even such a harsh and emotional criticism is still protected by the constitutional right to artistic expression. This is a landmark case, setting the limits of the freedom of speech”, adds Ms Pacho.

The Green Light Foundation is represented by Andrzej Tomaszek and Marcelina Sosnowska-Rudnik of Drzewiecki, Tomaszek & Wspólnicy, both acting pro bono. The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights has been observing the court proceedings in the case. The case has been joined by the Human Rights Defender.

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