Content Regulation / Censorship
Loughran v. Century Newspapers Ltd
Closed Contracts Expression
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In considering whether to uphold the German courts’ decisions to issue an injunction to suppress illegally collected footage of a company’s animal testing, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that the domestic courts had struck an appropriate balance between Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the company’s right to protect its reputation, ultimately upholding the injunction.
Tierbefreier e.V. is an association based in Germany that militates for animal rights.
This case concerned an injunction preventing Tierbefreier e.V. from disseminating film footage that was secretly taken in 2003 by a journalist on the premises of a company performing experiments on animals for the pharmaceutical industry. The journalist used his footage to produce documentary films of different length that made critical comments, particularly about the way animals were treated on the company’s premises. These films and excerpts of the footage were shown by several television networks, and Tierbefreier e.V. made a film – of about 20 minutes in length with the title “Poisoning For Profit” – available on its website.
Relying on Article 10 of the ECHR, which provides for freedom of expression, Tierbefreier e.V. complained that the German courts, in an injunction upheld by the Federal Constitutional Court in January 2009, had unfairly ordered it to desist from publicly showing the footage. Tierbefreier e.V. further relied on Article 14 of the ECHR (in conjunction with Article 10), complaining that it had been discriminated against in comparison with the journalist, who merely had been prohibited from disseminating specific films and had been allowed to continue the publication of the footage in other contexts.
The ECtHR observed, on the one hand, that the domestic courts had carefully examined whether granting the injunction in question would violate Tierbefreier e.V.’s right to freedom of expression. In doing so, they had accepted that dissemination of the film footage was protected under the right to freedom of expression. Referring to the special reference to animal rights contained in the German Basic Law, the domestic courts had acknowledged that the material related to questions of public interest, which called for special protection under the right to freedom of expression.
On the other hand, the German courts had considered that further dissemination of the material by Tierbefreier e.V. would seriously violate the company’s rights. In this context, they took into account that the impugned footage had been produced by a former employee of the company, who had abused his professional status in order to produce film material secretly within that company’s private premises.
In light of the foregoing considerations and, in particular, of the careful examination of the case by the domestic courts, which had fully acknowledged the impact of the right to freedom of expression in debates on matters of public interest, the ECtHR found that the domestic courts had struck a fair balance between Tierbefreier e.V.’s right to freedom of expression and the company’s interests in protecting its reputation.
Accordingly, the ECtHR found no violation of Article 10 of the ECHR and no violation of Article 14 of the ECHR, taken in conjunction with Article 10.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The ECtHR upheld Germany’s decision to issue an injunction to prevent the broadcast of illegally collected footage regarding a company’s treatment of animals, largely because the light and context of the footage suggested an unproven degree of cruelty towards animals and damaged the company’s reputation.
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.
ECtHR judgments are binding on the states concerned in the matter.
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