CANBERRA – Australia’s largest electricity generator AGL Energy took Greenpeace to court on Wednesday alleging breaches of copyright and trademark laws in the environmental group’s campaign describing AGL as the nation’s “biggest climate polluter.”
Greenpeace Australia Pacific has accused AGL, which predominantly generates coal-fired electricity, of “greenwashing” by promoting itself as a leading investor in renewable energy.
AGL has targeted in the Federal Court Greenpeace’s use of its logo in an online advertising campaign featuring the slogan, “AGL – Australia’s Greatest Liability.”
Greenpeace lawyer Katrina Bullock said the lawsuit was an example of a “fossil fuel” company using the law to try “intimidate their critics.”
AGL unsuccessfully applied for an interim court order in early May that would have forced Greenpeace to stop using the logo.
Greenpeace argues that Australian trademark law allows for the logo to be used for satire, parody and criticism.
AGL lawyer Megan Evetts told the court there was a “clear intention to harm the brand” through the Greenpeace campaign. The court must decide whether Greenpeace owed AGL damages, she said.
“AGL is not seeking to stifle public debate. What it is seeking to do is protect itself, protect its intellectual property rights,” Evetts said.
Greenpeace lawyer Neil Murray told the court the campaign did not breach the law because it did not use the AGL trademark in a trade context and its motives were “pure.”
“The conduct of the campaign to cause people to be critical of AGL for continuing to operate coal until 2048 in the hope that that criticism will create pressure on AGL to change is a legitimate goal: initiating public debate for a beneficial cause,” Murray said. “To punish a charity for doing that would be unjust.”
AGL accepted in its latest annual report that it was Australia’s largest greenhouse gas emitter with plans to continue generating electricity by burning coal until 2048, Murray said.
“This is not a frolic invented by Greenpeace. This is a serious issue, the dynamics of which are recognized by AGL in its own documents,” Murray said.
The campaign was aimed at ending Australian reliance on coal-fired power by 2030 as recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“It’s not . . . an exercise in gratuitous denigration of AGL, it’s not about trying to inflict maximum harm to them,” Murray said. “It’s a socially responsible campaign addressed to a very specific issue based on international research.”
AGL lawyer John Hennessy said the campaign involved the “wholesale reproduction of the logo” and could not be considered satirical.
Greenpeace campaigner Glenn Walker described the amended AGL logo used in his campaign as a parody.
Under questioning by Hennessy, Walker denied that the aim of the campaign was to persuade AGL to change its policy through a loss of customers.
Walker said Greenpeace advised AGL customers to write messages on social media pages, send emails to the AGL chief executive and telephone AGL’s customer service center to raise concerns about the company’s climate policy.
“We’ve been very clear in our communication with any AGL customers that we’d actually prefer them to engage with the company because we think that has greater impact in this campaign,” Walker said.
Walker did not accept Hennessy’s proposition that Greenpeace considered AGL a “villain.”
“We regard them as a temporary villain,” Walker said. “Because many of the companies that we target through our campaigning end up becoming quite good corporate players and we congratulate them for that.”
“Ultimately the purpose of the campaign is to get them to shut down their coal-burning power stations and to become a renewable energy leader,” he added.
Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator confirms that AGL is the nation’s largest greenhouse gas polluter, accounting for 8% of the nation’s total emissions.
Justice Stephen Burley said at the end of the one-day hearing that he would deliver his verdict at a later date.