Esso loses bid to silence critics on internet

Press release - 26 February, 2003
Trying to stop free speech on the internet is a failing strategy for Esso.

Activists Stop Esso at France's biggest refinery on the 25 May 2002.

The decision by a French court today to lift an injunction against the use of a parody logo on the StopEsso website was an important victory for free speech on the internet, a victory for the climate, and evidence that Esso's strategy to silence critics using the courts was futile, Greenpeace said today.

In July 2002, Esso France began legal action against Greenpeace in France over the StopEsso website, which uses a logo featuring a double dollar sign ($$) in place of the double "S" in the oil giant's red and blue logo. StopEsso, a global coalition of groups including Greenpeace, is campaigning around the world to stop Esso from sabotaging international action to address climate change and has used the logo around the world since the campaign was launched in May 2001.

"Esso is sabotaging climate protection in order to continue its dirty business and has attempted to use the courts to silence its critics. Today that strategy failed," said Greenpeace International campaigner Stephanie Tunmore.

"Esso is one of the world's most profitable companies and uses its big bucks to get what it wants, from spending millions on lobbying the White House to drop the Kyoto Protocol, to buying junk science and advertising campaigns that try to confuse the public about global warming."

In July last year, a French judge upheld Esso's bid to get the logo taken off the Greenpeace France website. But after hearing Greenpeace's appeal, Justice Lacabarats in Paris found that StopEsso's use of the logo was allowable under the right to free speech.

A similar case over use of parody logos on the internet was heard in France on the same day as the StopEsso logo case, when French nuclear company Areva sought to use Greenpeace in France and New Zealand over a parody logo used on the web. The court upheld a previous decision that this logo was allowable, again citing freedom of speech.

Esso had earlier claimed that a double dollar sign logo associated the company with the Nazi SS but this was rejected by the court at a preliminary hearing. Esso had demanded the withdrawal of all the logos, a penalty of 80,000 Euro a day for reputational damage and 80,000 Euro per day per logo if Greenpeace failed to comply. It also demanded removal of all use of the term "StopEsso".

"It is Esso's own behaviour interfering in international action on climate change that is damaging its reputation, rather than anything we are doing," said Tunmore. "Trying to trample over the right to freedom of expression in an attempt to shut us down has only attracted further condemnation".

The website over which Esso sought to sue, has now been reactivated in France.