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Top Tips: Legal Risks with Campaigning



Campaigning is a fundamental part of any organisation, especially when that organisation is committed to raising awareness around animal protection issues. However, campaigning is not without its risks. We have outlined some of the main issues below.


Harassment


Harassment covers a wide range of behaviours of offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour that demeans, humiliates, and intimidates a person. Harassment is covered by legislation under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, however the act itself does not provide a definition of harassment. However, case law and general understanding of the word includes behaviour such as cyber stalking, sending unwanted text messages, making unwanted phone calls or antisocial behaviour. The definition of harassment will vary case by case and much consideration will need to be given to the exact behaviour carried out.


It is worth noting however that a company cannot claim that they are being harassed. If a company feels that a certain campaign is attempting to undermine the brand or to bring their reputation into disregard, then they would most likely have to bring a claim for defamation. On the other hand, individual employees of the company, such as the CEOs or other decision makers within the company, could bring a claim for harassment if the campaign in question is causing them to suffer more than general annoyance or irritations.


Copyright Infringement


Copyright applies to any original works of literary, artistic, musical or dramatic creation which covers everything from films and photographs to novels and songs. Copyright protection is automatic and prevents someone else from using your copyright material without your permission. Copyright is covered by Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


It is not uncommon for some campaigning groups to use signage or images of another brand as part of their campaigns. In many cases this will be for the use of critiquing the brand in question, for example to call attention to poor animal welfare standards or poor business practices. In these cases though, it is possible that the use of the copyright material will be exempt from infringement either due to parody, critique or the use is for educational purposes. There are also a number of other exceptions that could apply and these exceptions are all determined on a case by case basis.


Trademarks


Similar to copyright infringement is the use of another brand’s trademarks. A trademark is any sign which can distinguish the goods or services of a trader from those of another. A trademark itself can consist of words (including personal names), designs, letters, numerals, colours, sounds or the shape of goods or their packaging. Trademarks are covered in legislation by the Trade Marks Act 1994.


Trademark infringement focuses on the commercial impact that the infringement will have on the original owner company in that it is for the original owner of the trademark to prove that their brand has suffered a detriment through the unauthorised use of the trademark by another party. Trademark law is again reviewed on a case by case basis and the severity of the infringement will vary from case to case. It is also worth noting that whilst parody of a trademark is not a defence to infringement, the use of a trademark for parody effects would likely be exempt from infringement if the parody is a reflection of their artistic or political freedom of expression.


Defamation


Defamation is the publication of an untrue statement to at least one other person that will tend to cause the hypothetical average person to think less of a person. Defamation is covered by the Defamation Act 2013.


A statement is not defamatory unless its publication has caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the person who is being defamed. A company however can also be defamed, but will have to show that the “serious harm” caused or is likely to cause the company serious financial loss. There are a number of defences available when it comes to defamation, which include honest opinion, truth of the statement and public interest. As with trademark law though, whether a statement is deemed to be defamatory will vary depending on the facts of each case and as a result there may be a number of defences that could apply to each case.


Police powers during a protest


The right to protest is protected in the European Convention of Human Rights, most notably thorough Articles 10 and 11. However the past two years have brought a lot of change to the powers that police have when it comes to monitoring and policing protests and protesters, most notably through the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and the Public Order Act 2023. Both of these acts imposed further restrictions to the already existing legislation of the Public Order Act 1986. The legislation applies to any static protest (such as standing outside a shop or building to protest) and any procession protests (such as marching along a set route).


The Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 added provisions for the police to be able to put restrictions and provisions in place for any protest (static and procession) if they believe that the protest may cause serious disruption to the general public by preventing the general public from getting to a certain location, prevent them from accessing services or cause a serious delay to their day to day activities. They can also impose these conditions on one-person protests. The act also now states that a person can be guilty of breaching a condition if they knew or ought to have known that a condition was in place.


The Public Order Act 2023 also increased the powers available to police when it comes to stop and search, but allowing them to stop and search ‘without suspicion’. It also allows for the police to stop and search anyone for ‘prohibitive objects’, however as the act does not define what a prohibitive object is, this could cause much confusion and abuses of power moving forward.


Further information


Please note that this post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact info@advocates-for-animals.com.


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