Commercial free-riding for non-profit organizations

Published onDecember 2017

What do an animal protection society and associations promoting natural filiation and lobbying against same-sex marriage have in common?

According to the First Instance Court of Paris, they share advertising campaigns with the same concept (judgment of 23 November 2017, 3rd chamber, 4th section). However, it was not because of a mutual decision or by mere chance but because the latter tried to promote their activities by copying the campaign of the former.

In April 2016, the Société Protectrice des Animaux (1) launched a viral advertising campaign to fight violence against animals. Different themes were presented with the hashtag symbol (#), shocking photos, the question “Torture …is it legal?”, and the sentence “Mister President #IWriteYouALetter”.

A few days later, the association La Manif Pour Tous (2) and the Fondation Jérôme Lejeune (3) copied the posters released by the Société Protectrice des Animaux. They only changed the themes (such as #Surrogacy or #LateAbortion), the photos and the questions (such as “Women exploitation …is it legal?” or “Infanticide …is it legal?”). The sentence “Mister President #IWriteYouALetter” was copied as well with the same presentation.

Although the associations are non-profit organizations, such behaviour is commercial free-riding for the judges because the advertising campaign was copied in almost all its elements by associations promoting their own causes, thus interfering with the original message conveyed by the Société Protectrice des Animaux and unlawfully benefiting from its investments.

Freedom of expression has nothing to do with it. Even if the defendants have legitimate causes to defend, there was no obligation for them to copy the original campaign. And there can be no exception of parody either. The themes and photos of the defendants’ campaigns were grave and shocking enough to rule out any comic intention.

Defending social causes, however noble they can be, does not allow non-profit organizations to act in bad faith and interfere with the work of other associations.

© INSCRIPTA

(1) The Animal Protection Society is the first association for the protection of animals in France. It was founded in 1845 (See https://www.la-spa.fr/).

(2) The association La Manif Pour Tous (Demonstration for All) fights against same-sex marriage, defends natural filiation and the superior interest of children (See http://www.lamanifpourtous.fr/).

(3) The Jérôme Lejeune Foundation works for individuals affected by genetic intelligence disorders and promotes human dignity (See https://www.fondationlejeune.org/en/).