Defamation / Reputation
Johnson v. Steele
In Progress Expands Expression
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The Court denied Heythrop’s request for an interim injunction prohibiting CAPS from publishing photographs and videos taken by a CAPS “investigator” during a visit to Heythrop zoological park. The videos and photographs, accompanied by articles, alleged that Heythrop exploited and treated animals inhumanely. The Court found that the publications were of a clearly journalistic nature, and thus to receive the injunction, Heythrop had to show that it would succeed at receiving a permanent injunction, which the Court reasoned it would not receive.
Heythrop Zoological Gardens Limited (“Heythrop”) is a corporation that provides animals to the film and television industry and the Captive Animals Prevention Society (“CAPS”) is an organization that fights against the exploitation of animals.
Heythrop is generally closed to the public except for certain open days. On one of these open days a member of CAPS visited Heythrop and took videos and photos of the animals there. These videos and photographs were posted on CAPS’s website with accompanying articles explaining the exploitation of animals and the inhumane conditions that these animals suffered.
Heythrop then sought an interim injunction to prohibit CAPS from posting the film and videos online arguing breach of contract, breach of confidence, and breach of non-property performance rights. The breach of contract cause was brought on the basis of a Code of Conduct listed on each ticket to the park, The claim for performer’s rights was brought under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
CAPS argued this was simply a case of defamation and issuing an interim injunction would be tantamount to a prior restraint on speech. Further, CAPS argued that the Court must consider the important factor of freedom of speech, freedom of journalism, and the importance of the public interest. Heythrop countered that this case is more about infringement on Heythrop’s rights than defamation of character. To this end, Heythrop argued that the proper test for whether the Court should issue the injunction should be whether there is an arguable case, whether there is unquantifiable harm, and what is the balance of convenience and justice (the American Cyanamid test).
The Court denied the interim injunction.
The Court briefly analyzed each of the claims brought by the parties and concluded that there was an arguable case on either side. The Court then went on to analyze the application for an interim injunction, the core issue involving freedom of speech in this case.
The Court, analyzing current case law, found that the correct approach for it to make a determination on this interim injunction was to identify “the nature of the rights relied on by the claimant in support of its claim for an interim injunction and carrying out the required balancing exercise.” [para. 56]
In this case, the balance of rights involved measuring the rights of CAPS versus the rights of Heythrop. On the one hand, the Court noted Heythrop had property and economic rights at stake in this case. Clearly, Heythrop who is primarily engaged in the training and hiring-out of its animals has a commercial interest in stopping the publication of these films and photographs. However, CAPS is a campaigning organization that carries out an important journalistic function. Although CAPS is not a newspaper it still serves this journalistic purpose in the way that it chooses to impart knowledge. The photographs help to illustrate the articles posted by CAPS, which try and expose the practices at Heythrop.
The Court noted the publications involved in this case were journalistic in nature and the key justification Heythrop produced for seeking the injunction was injury to reputation (even though Heythrop puts forward claims of violations of economic rights). Specifically, “the purpose and basis of the interim relief is the protection of harm to reputation of the claimant caused by publications of a clearly journalistic nature.” [para. 62] Therefore, the Court found that to survive an interim injunction, the claimant must prove that success at trial was “more likely than not.” [para. 63]
The majority of the images posted on the website were images the public could view themselves if they chose to visit Heythrop on one of the days it was open for public visits (as the investigators for CAPS did). Therefore, these images were not competing with Heythrop’s business. Even the images referred to by the Court as “whistle-blower” images did not defeat the standard for an interim injunction as there was a public interest defense. The Court also found a potential fair dealing defense for the breach of confidence claim. Therefore, the Court found that there was not a sufficient likelihood that Heythrop would be able to obtain a final injunction at the conclusion of this case, and the Court refused to issue the interim injunction.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
This case expands expression by refusing to grant Heythrop’s interim injunction to remove pictures on CAPS website taken at Heythrop’s facility exposing alleged cruelty to its animals. The Court in this case found that the journalistic rights of CAPS outweighed Heythrop’s economic interests.
This case is also influential because it notes that an organization does not have to be a newspaper or journalist perse in order to serve a journalistic function.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
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