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[online-e] German lawsuit over e-mail (fwd)

----- Forwarded message from Steven Carlson -----

To: online-europe@isys.hu
From: Steven Carlson <steve@isys.hu>
Subject: [online-e] German lawsuit over e-mail

I got this message from the Red Rock Eater service, so I'm including the
moderator's message (below). I'm sure our German readers will be interested
to read this news ...

[Red Rock Eater moderator comments:]

[What I find most interesting about this is the reported role of PR
firms in monitoring e-mail among environmental activists.  This is not
surprising, given a variety of past stories about PR surveillance of
nonviolent activist groups (see Covert Action Quarterly for Spring 1993
or John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good for You, Common
Courage Press, 1995), but it's the first time I've heard of such tactics
being extended into computer networks.  Forwarded with permission.]

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Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 17:38:31 +0100
From: Werner Reisberger <werner@tribe.ping.de>
To: gentech@tribe.ping.de
Subject: A company of swindle


As I wrote earlier Monsanto sued me for distributing a message on a
mailing list. Members from this list asked me to give further
information and although I haven't still get the reasons from court I will
try my best to tell you (with my basic english) what happened.

As I posted the message to GENESIS, a german mailing list concerned
with novel food, I couldn't imagine such a harsh reaction.

I received the message from activists who were preparing a
demonstration against Monsanto Germany on November 25 th 1996 in
Duesseldorf. The cause for the demonstration was the import of
Monsanto's RR-Soya in the European Union. Never before a genetically
engineered organism which elements are part of the most processed
foods had been imported in the whole european market.

To support the demonstration a decided to post the proclamation to the
mailing list. I read the text and couldn't find any lies or serious
unreasonable offences. Two days later, on a friday evening, a courier
brought me a letter. I anticipated nothing and acknowledged the
delivery. The letter was from a german lawyer, representing Monsanto
Germany in Duesseldorf. It was stated that I distributed a
proclamation on the Internet in which Monsanto is called a

"corporation of poisons, genes and swindle".

The origin of this slogan depends from Greenpeace. The activists only
added the german word "Gaunereien" which means swindle or cheat. I use
the word swindle for "Gaunereien" because the german word "Schwindel"
sounds similar and has the same meaning.

Monsanto claimed I offended the company with the word swindle and
endangered their creditworthiness. They gave me three days to sign a
declaration in which I had to oblige myself to say nevermore:
"Monsanto, the corporation of swindle". Every time I repeat this
sentence  I should pay 100,000 DM (1 Dollar equals ca. 1.5 DM). The
lawyer demanded for the writing 3777 DM.

I was puzzled because no lawyer was available on this friday evening
and I was forced to find a decision until Monday 12 o'clock. On monday
two lawyers gave me the information that there is a good chance to win
the case. I went to my lawyer in my home town, but she adviced me to
sign the declaration. She couldn't estimated the chances of
winning. Eventually I didn't agree with her and sent Monsanto's lawyer
a fax refusing to sign the declaration of the following reasons:

1. I am not the author of the proclamation.
2. The opinions expressed are sheltered by the german constitution.

Next day, November 19 th, I was lucky and found a lawyer experienced
with political cases and willing to support me. He anticipated that
Monsanto would apply at court for a decision which would forbid me to
say the very sentence. Therefore he wrote a letter to the court at my
home town in Bochum. He was right but Monsanto already applied for the
decision in Duesseldorf. The court in Duesseldorf followed the
application and issued a preliminary judgement on the same day,
forcing me not to repeat the very sentence otherwise I should pay
500,000 DM or spent 6 month in prison. Monsanto argued that the court
in Duesseldorf is responsible because the proclamation was distributed
on the Internet and therefore every Duesseldorf citizen with an
Internet connection was able to read the message. This statement was
wrong. Following this argumentation also the court in New York could
have been responsible. When I posted the message to GENESIS the list
had only 24 members and wasn't direct reachable from the Internet.

Some people may ask: How did Monsanto knew about the proclamation?

The headquarter of Monsanto Germany is in Duesseldorf but Monsanto
didn't get the proclamation by e-mail. Monsanto's public relation
activities in Germany are performed by the New York PR company Young &
Rubicam which tried to influence the german public in favour for the
RR-Soya. A so called "Internet Counsellor" from this company
subscribed to GENESIS with the address info_soya@yr.com. The
proclamation was sent to this address located in the USA, probably New
York. From there the message was sent or redirected to the subsidiary
of Y&R in Frankfurt/Germany. Finally Monsanto Germany received the
proclamation by fax from there. PR firms working for Monsanto have a
bad reecord. An employee from the PR firm Fleishman Hillard
e. g. betrayed rBST activists and journalists about her real
identity. She claimed to be a student in order to get information and
addresses (Sunday, Chicago, Sept. 8 th 1996, "Food maker keeps close
eye on press"). The "Internet Counselor" from Y&R gave a declaration
to the court in Duesseldorf which was obviously wrong. He stated he
read on one of my web pages an explanation how to subscribe to
GENESIS. He even added a copy of this web page to his
declaration. Everyone able to read english could see that the page is
about GENTECH. There could be two explanations: He didn't read this
page or he thought the german judges couldn't read it! This isn't a
minor fault. It was part of Monsanto's argumentation, GENESIS would have
been reachable from the Internet.

My lawyer worked very hard but he couldn't achieve a quick withdrawal
of the preliminary judgement. The demonstration in Duesseldorf took
place on November 25 th 1996. Approximately 80 people took a walk to the
Monsanto headquarter. The small demonstration was attended by
environmentalists, organic farmers and activists against GMO releases.
The media coverage was weak.

I was wondering why Monsanto sued me for a paper which is hardly
derogatory. I know other people who are calling Monsantos sweetener
aspartame a "deadly poison" and criticizing the companies policy in a
hard way without beeing sued. I think the reason is the special
situation in germany last autumn. Greenpeace and other environmental
groups started a campaign against RR-Soya and the public opinion and
media coverage weren't in favour of the new food. Maybe Monsanto
feared a strong demonstration and tried therefore everything to stifle
upcoming protest.

The hearing for my case was scheduled for December 4 th 1996 but then
the decision was adjourned for January 8 th 1997.  On this day all
claims Monsanto's have been rejected. Monsanto has to pay the whole
costs. As soon I receive the substantiation from court I will report
about it.

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----- End of forwarded message from Steven Carlson -----