The “Nigdy Więcej” (Never Again) Association and the “Zielone Światło” (Green Light) Foundation organized a social action entitled “Nazism never again on Allegro”. It was a protest against a Polish auction website Allegro.pl which allowed to buy and sell different Nazi gadgets and memorabilia. The Foundation together with a writer, artist and social activist Jerzy Masłowski prepared an illustration with Allegro.pl logotype in which in which two L letters were changed and shaped as the SS symbol. This illustration was used on postcards that were handed out to different people during the street-action that happened near Metro Świętokrzyska in Warsaw on 21 March 2010.
On 20 April 2010, the Foundation received a cease and desist letter from QXL Poland – the owner of Allegro. The Company requested the removal from all public places of all publications, photographs, posters and billboards, and other materials that included the altered trade mark. QXL demanded destruction of all the above mentioned materials and asked the Foundation to publish an apology on its website, as well as in the pages of Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper. The Foundation refused to comply.
QXL Poland sued the “Zielone Światło” foundation and Jerzy Masłowski for the infringement of personal rights. During the trial, the Foundation argued that it has conducted correspondence with Allego with regard to products with fascist symbols or products referring to fascist ideology, that were offered at different auctions. However, it has not brought the intended effect, because Allegro.pl did not remove these items from its website. For this reason, the Foundation organized the street action. The Foundation argued that from 8 June 2010, the provisions of Article 256 of the Criminal Code were amended.
§ 1. Whoever publicly promotes a fascist or other totalitarian system of state or incites hatred based on national, ethnic, race or religious differences or for reason of lack of any religious denomination
shall be subject to a fine, the penalty of restriction of liberty or the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to 2 years.
§ 22 The same punishment shall be imposed on anyone, who for the purpose of dissemination, produces, records or import, acquire, stores, possess, presents, transports or transfers a print, record or other item of the content specified in § 1 or being a carrier of the fascist, communist or other totalitarian symbolism..
§ 3 A crime is not committed by a perpetrator of a forbidden act specified in § 2, if he or she commits the said act in the course of artistic, educational, collectible or scientific activity.
The Foundation concluded that its action was a response to long-term omission of Allegro. The action was organized to draw the attention of relevant authorities and the public at auctions that poses a danger to others. It sought to protect an important public interest, and therefore was not unlawful. In addition, the Foundation argued that according to the legal doctrine the criticism aimed at improving the reality is not illegal, even if it is excessively expressive in description and in negative assessment, as well as it’s impolite way of expression and presentation of arguments, if it is justified by the importance of issues raised and the literary form that was used. Moreover, the scope of permissible criticism depends on the weight of social affairs, and in case of doubt, freedom of expression takes precedence, and in some cases even offensive criticism is acceptable. If the case requires so, the criticism might be very offensive, and it may even seek to destroy the enemy, for example, in the dispute against pedophilia or against the view that is glorifying Stalin. The Foundation argued also that a request for legal protection raised by Allegro cannot ban the Foundation and other individuals from expressing their critical opinions of the plaintiff’s conduct. Such behavior constitutes an abuse of the subjective right as decided by the Appeallate Court in Lódź in its judgment of 25 May 2006 case file I ACa 15/06, published in electronic database LEX, under the no. 512493.
On 9 November 20011, a lawyer representing the Foundation presented a legal opinion issued by Prof. Wojciech Sadurski. Prof. Sadurski wrote that there was no violation of personal interests. In the opinion of the author, the case brought by QXL Poland illustrates the conflict between two types of claims related to absolute rights protected by the law. The claims relating to freedom of expression, and intellectual property claims relating to the protection of trade marks owned by QXL Poland. Citing the case law of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal, prof. Sadurski argued that freedom of speech is superior to other constitutional rights and freedoms. He noted that limiting the right to freedom of expression by issuing a ban on speech, would violate the essence of the constitutional right to freedom of speech. Prof. Sadurski cited Smith v Wal-Mart Stores, 537 F.Supp.2d 1302 (ND GA 2008), however he pointed out that the Foundation does not conduct any commercial activity, and the risk of consumers’ confusions is clearly excluded. Please bear in mind that such opinions are treated by the Courts as private documents, not as the expert witness evidence/testimony. The case is pending and the next hearing is scheduled on 6 February 2012.
QXL Poland filed also a request for preliminary injunction. The District Court in Warsaw in its order of 20 January 2011 case file XXIV C 1035/10 dismissed it during a closed-door court session (in camera). However, the Appeallate Court in Warsaw in its decision of 5 May 2011 case file I ACz 671/11 decided to secure the claim of QXL. The Court prohibited the Foundation and Jerzy Masłowski from transmitting and disseminating on their websites of any publications or materials containing the questioned trade mark.
The District Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 13 March 2013 case file XXIV C 1035/10 ruled that the “Zielone Światło” (Green Light) Foundation infringed personal rights of Allegro, such as reputation and fame. The Court decided that the demonstrations against the sale of Nazi memorabilia and interference with the logo of the portal were too excessive and bore the risk of linking the portal with Nazi organizations.
The Appeallate Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 9 January 2014 case file I ACa 841/2013 dismissed Allegro’s claims. The Court noted that in this case there was a conflict of values, but also drew attention to the historical context of the sale of items referring to the Nazi ideology. The court held that undoubtedly there has been violation of the good name of the plaintiff – the name of the portal website, and in consequence, it could interfere with its business because some customers would not have positive opinions regarding the auction site. However, the rough means of expression that were undertaken by the Defendants, in order to remove the sale of a Nazi gadgets, excluded illegality. According to the Court this actions proved to be effective – have led to restrictions on the sale of Nazi’s memorabilia . What’s more important, the Court held that the Defendants acted to protect a legitimate public interest. The court ruled that artistic criticism of such business activities of an auction portal is not an unlawful action and deserves constitutional protection. The judgment is final.