Harsh Criticism Against Nazi Retailer Allowed by Polish Court

A case involving the public shaming of an online auction company for its sale of Nazi memorabilia ends in a decision against the business. The verdict helps better define the limits of freedom of expression in Poland.

The Polish Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal of auction site Allegro.pl in a case stemming from the sale of Nazi memorabilia. The verdict is seen as important for defining the limits of freedom of expression in the country, and despite acknowledging damage to the auction site's reputation, the court felt it was more important to protect actions that further a socially important issue.

The Green Light Foundation and the "Never Again" Association, together with writer and artist Jerzy Masłowski, launched a social action called “Nazism never again on Allegro." The campaign featured an illustration with the Allegro.pl logo, but with the two L letters changed to appear as the Nazi SS symbol. This illustration was used on postcards that were handed out during the street protest, held in Warsaw in 2010.

Permissible criticism

In January 2014, the Appellate Court of Warsaw dismissed the Allegro group's lawsuit for infringement of personal rights against Green Light Foundation and Masłowski, saying the modification to the logotype fell within the scope of permissible criticism.

The Supreme Court, like the appeals court, acknowledged that there had been damage to Allegro's reputation when the social action disseminated information about auctions of Nazi symbols and the financial benefits from them for the company. The court also noted that the company's name was tarnished when its logo was modified — that such action portrayed the company negatively and may have weakened public confidence in the business.

Nevertheless, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, there was no doubt that the organizers of the action had acted in the name of a socially legitimate interest. The court found that the action taken by them did not exceed the acceptable forms of criticism, and drew attention to the historical context and the resurgence of neo-fascist ideology.

Freedom of expression defined

“We welcome the judgment of the Supreme Court. This ruling is extremely important for defining the boundary of freedom of expression and criticism allowed by law in the public space,” said Irmina Pacho, a lawyer for the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights (HFHR).

“The campaign was a response to the long-term inaction of Allegro, as the portal did not remove [the Nazi items] from its website despite numerous interventions and complaints,” added Pacho.

The Green Light Foundation was represented pro bono by attorney Andrzej Tomaszek from Drzewiecki, Tomaszek & Wspólnicy Law Office. The HFHR observed the trial. The country's ombudsman also joined the case.