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Court of appeal upholds judgment declaring boycott of beer unlawful

On 21 March 2018, the Court of Appeal in Warsaw made the judgment in which it partially reversed Warsaw’s Regional Court decision issued in the case of a boycott of a well-known brand of beer.

Managers of a Warsaw-based coffee shop/cultural centre organised the campaign of public spilling of beer produced by a well-known brewery after the CEO of the brewery published derogative statements against sexual minorities on his Facebook profile. They also decided to refrain from serving the brewery’s beer in their establishment. Several days after the boycott was announced, a number of other pubs, from Warsaw and other cities in Poland, joined the action.

The companies affected by the boycott considered such conduct an act of unfair competition and sued the campaign’s organisers for damages.

In the judgment of 21 March 2017, the Regional Court ruled for the claimant and ordered the foundation which organised the boycott campaign and owns the establishment to pay PLN 5,000 for a charitable cause and to publish an apology on a Facebook profile.

A year later, the Court of Appeal in Warsaw entered a judgment that amended the first-instance ruling by waiving the foundation’s obligation to make a charitable payment. In a verbal summary of the justification of the decision, the Court of Appeal argued that the foundation had acted to the detriment of the brewery and noted that both entities had been on an equal business footing. The Court held that the defendant had breached a “business custom” according to which business competitors should not undermine another brand’s repute. The Court also emphasised that the CEO’s statements could not be attributed to the brewery and his actions could be considered actions of the brewery. As a private individual, the CEO can be associated with his private statements, but the brewery is a separate and independent entity, which cannot be attributed the views expressed by its CEO.

Moreover, the Court noted that the foundation’s campaign targeted private speech but nevertheless damaged the brewery because the defendants not only organised the campaign but also persuaded others to join and induced them to refrain from purchasing the brewery’s products.

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