Evangelical Television and Temporary Injunctions

May 9, 2018

voice of hope2

High Adventure Ministries sued Strategic Group, The Voice of Hope LTD and Rev John D. Tayloe (presumably Taylor?) for using “the Voice of Hope” for spreading evangelical messages.

This case related to a Request to Appeal a refusal to grant a temporary injunction that was issued by Judge M Amit-Anisman of the Tel Aviv – Jaffa District Court on 27 November 2017.

The background relates to the parties’ activities concerning dissemination of Evangelical Christian messages via the radio and similar, under the name “Voice of Hope”.

The background relates to the parties’ activities concerning dissemination of Evangelical Christian messages via the radio and similar, under the name “Voice of Hope”.

high global

The Appellant, High Adventure Ministries, has used the mark for many years, and sued the defendants Strategic Group, The Voice of Hope LTD and Rev John D. Tayloe in the Tel Aviv – Jaffa District Court claiming passing off, Unjust Enrichment and infringement of a well-known trademark albeit not registered in Israel.

During the proceeding, they submitted a request for a temporary injunction to forbid the defendants using the mark. This interim injunction (Case 65046-06-17) was refused by Judge M Amit-Anisman on 27 November 2017. She ruled that the Plaintiff had a case, at least under the tort of passing off, but considered that the significance of the case, the balance of convenience and justice considerations tilted the scales in favour of the defendants, stressing that:

  1. The defendants had used a radio station named Voice of Hope for a number of months and its establishment had required an investment of millions of dollars.
  2. The radio station broadcasts in Arabic and is directed to listeners in various Arab countries, whereas the plaintiff’s transmissions are in English and are directed to English speakers.
  3. The plaintiff had known about the intention to establish the radio station at least a year ago but had been tardy in filing a complaint and so was not deserving of a temporary restriction order.

voice of hope

The plaintiff claims that the defendants’ website includes English and so they also direct their efforts to English speakers. They argue that it is not proven that a temporary injunction will cause the defendants damage, however NOT granting a temporary injunction will do them damage, and they contested the allegation of tardiness. They argued that they had a good case and accused the defendants of inequitable behaviour. The defendants meanwhile, argued that the Court of First Instance was correct to refuse to grant a temporary injunction and did not consider that the case should be appealable.

This issue is one of temporary injunctions, which are relevant to trademark issues. In this field, the Court of First Instance that considers the case has wide discretionary powers and the Court of Appeal has limited authority to intervene where the Court of First instance has the information before it and hears witnesses and gets an impression of their reliability. There are, however, exceptional cases where intervention is justified, but is this one of them?
Antenna

Whether or not to grant interim injunctions depends on two main variables: the likelihood of prevailing, and the balance of convenience.

The court of first instance determined that there was a case to be answered. However, it was the balance of convenience and considerations of justice that tilted the scales into not issuing the temporary injunction. Thus despite considering that there was a case, it was the balance of convenience issue that was considered more important. Here, both sides argued that it was not proven that the other party would suffer irreversible damage. In this regard, Judge Handel emphasized two points:

Firstly, apart from general waffle, neither party provided concrete data supporting their suspicions that the damage they would suffer would be irreversible. For example, the defendants invested significant sums in establishing their radio station but did not show that much of that investment was in branding, and that changing the name of the channel temporarily would adversely affect their profitability. That said, since they are already broadcasting under the name Voice of Hope, there is no doubt that a temporary injunction would inconvenience them, not so much due to the start-up investment costs, but because a change of name could cause confusion and lose them listeners.

The plaintiff Appellant did not indicate why failure to grant a temporary injunction would cause him damage. Here the emphasis is on the fact that the radio station broadcasts in Arabic, whereas those of the plaintiff Appellant are in English. So the target audience is different, and there is no support to the claim that the plaintiff Appellant will suffer damage, and thus no support that he would suffer irreversible damages. In this regard, Judge Handel considered the claim that the plaintiff Appellant had a world-wide reputation as the Voice of Hope, but as the District Court stated, in the request for a temporary injunction, the plaintiff Appellant failed to provide the factual basis for the claim that Arabic speakers are familiar with the Voice of Hope and would link the defendants’ station with the Israeli body that uses that name. Thus even if Judge Handel would accept the claim that the name Voice of Hope is indeed a well-known mark around the world that is associated with the plaintiff Appellant, that would not be a sufficient basis to grant the temporary injunction.  See for example, the Opposition to Israel Trademark Application Number142266 “No limits eyewear” (2 May 2004). It is noted that the burden of proof is on the plaintiff who wants the temporary injunction, expect for one exception, and here the second consideration comes into play.

Secondly, the defendants’ Internet site gives the impression that the radio station is the one established in 1979-2000 that no longer broadcasts, For example they state:  

“In 2014 we reestablish the VOICE OF HOPE radio station which had broadcast from South Lebanon from 1979-2000 The airwaves have been silent for 17 years, until today!

In other words, the defendants are glorifying themselves as reestablishing the station that the plaintiff had owned. Since the word mark is the same for the two stations, and the dove logo is similar, there is indeed likelihood that English speakers would erroneously conclude that the defendants’ station is associated with the plaintiff.  Similar erroneous messages are found in other English advertisements used by the defendants, appended as annexes 4-8 of the Appeal.

This suspicion of misleading the consumers throws a special light on this proceeding which relates to trademarks. Unlike other civil disagreements such as contract law, with regards to intellectual property, there is a third wheel to the conflict – the public.

The purpose of the Law of is not merely the narrow interest of the parties, but also the public interest who have a place in the story (see for example 8127/15 The Associate of Israeli Industrialists vs. Dohme Corp and Merck Sharp, 15 June 2016), and in trademark matters,  see also the request to register Israel Trademark No. 164702 LENGO, paragraphs 6-9 and the references there.

This is true for main trademark proceedings, such as registration of a mark in the trademark register, but it is also true for temporary injunctions. Just as it is important to consider the public in the main rulings, it is also important to consider them when considering issuing temporary injunctions since temporary injunctions are designed to serve the main ruling. The extent that NOT granting a temporary injunction would lead to the public being misled should be considered when considering temporary injunctions.

It will be noted that the first point emphasized the commonality of civil law including trademarks, whereas the second point emphasized the uniqueness of trademarks. This is not contradictory. Just as one has to consider the likelihood of a proceeding being successful in prevailing with regard to a specific law, one has to consider the uniqueness of trademark law where the specific law is the Trademark Ordinance. The difference is that one also has to relate to the third wheel – the public. This is the commonality with Administrative Law, although the public interest is different in the two areas. Whereas trademark Law is still personal law, in this regard it is on the seam between personal private law and public law.

In this instance, the existence of two entities transmitting Evangelical Christian messages under the same trademark, where one body publicises itself as related to the other body before the same target group, is likely to mislead the English listening demographic. This has an independent weight in both the considerations of public interest and in the balance of convenience. The risk is not that the listening public will be confused, as the transmission languages are different. The risk is in the advertisements in English. In these circumstances, it is fitting to not allow the appeal apart from with regards to one point.

That is to say, that the District Court was correct to refuse to grant a temporary injunction to the extent that it would be inappropriate to interfere, due to the large investment, the different target audience and language and the delay – even if it resulted from a lack of clarity regarding the defendants’ intentions following exchanges of letters and it is not clear if there was tardiness, or if the plaintiff thought things were resolvable without going to court, but the findings of the Court of First Instance were reasonable.

Together with this, the Court of First Instance was wrong with regard to the request to remove advertisements that create an association between the defendants and the plaintiff. The defendants are required to remove all references to the historic Voice of Hope channel belonging to the Appellant, and similarly to cease and desist from any publication that implies a connection between the parties. Alternatively, the defendants are allowed to leave the advertisements in place, but to add a clear and unequivocal clarification that they are not related to the English Voice of Hope, so that advertisers will not be misled. If the parties are not happy with this, they are invited to raise their claims with the Court of First Instance, but it appears that the parties can settle this between themselves without referring back to the courts.

In Judge Hendel’s opinion, this is the correct balance between the plaintiff, the defendants and the public. The defendants can continue broadcasting in Arabic under the name Voice of Hope to the residents of Lebanon and Syria since, in the framework of the request for a temporary injunction, no risk was substantiated that Arabic speakers would be misled regarding a relationship with the plaintiff’s station that closed in 2000, and so there is no risk of damaging that station. This considers the target audience of the radio station, and the minor differences in the marks, See Nazareth Civil Action 613/95 Arditi Americano vs. Harush, paragraph 6 (17 March 1996), and also considering that no evidence was produced to substantiate the claim that the mark was well known amongst Arabic speakers. As to English speakers, only the plaintiff transmits in English, and the defendants admit that their usage of English is only for written advertising purposes. Thus there is no likelihood of confusion regarding the transmissions themselves, but only with regard to the advertisements and these are mitigated by the steps ruled above.

Domino's pizzaPizza Domino

Such intermediate rulings are possible in trademark case which can result in two similar marks coexisting where there is a ruling that creates a difference that mitigates the likelihood of confusion, such as with regards to Israel TM no 6140 Domino Pizza which then Commissioner Michael Ophir Z”L allowed to coexist with Pizza Domino, in light of the different colour schemes, signage and newspaper articles stressing the lack of connection between the two chains. This is not a common occurrence, but it is fitting in a temporary injunction, as it balances the three interests, including that of the consumers.

All of the above only relates to the temporary injunction. It does not nail down the final ruling. The parties disagree regarding many factual matters, such as whether the plaintiff has a reputation, and the extent of that reputation, how well the Voice of Hope is known around the world and so on. Although these issues are considered with respect to whether a temporary injunction is appropriate, this in no way decides the trademark issue or nails down the main ruling, but merely attempts to minimize damage to both sides before the full ruling issues. See Appeal 4196/93 Shefa Bar Management and Services 1991 led.vs Shefa Restaurants Production and Marketing of Prepared Meals 1984 Ltd. p.d. 47(5) 165 (1993). The appropriate temporary injunction and the appropriate main ruling have different considerations. The Court’s main consideration with respect to temporary injunctions is to enable the main proceeding to take place without creating irreversible damages, whilst noting that the apparent facts and working hypotheses are liable to change, as is the perceived public interest, throughout the case, and the Court will have to make a final ruling in due course.

The Appeal for a temporary injunction is partially accepted and the costs awarded against the plaintiff by the Court of First Interest are cancelled. The defendants will bear the plaintiff’s costs and legal expenses of 18000 Shekels.

High Adventure Ministries vs. Strategic Group and the Voice of Hope LTD; ruling on interim injunction by Judge Hendel 7 May 2018.

COMMENT

2567555-David-Ben-Gurion-Quote-The-test-of-democracy-is-freedom-ofI think this ruling is balanced. It is in stark contrast to the en banc decision in the Bagatz ruling on the legality of the lex-specialis Arutz Sheva where the Supreme Court overturned a Law that legalized the station, basing themselves on the spurious argument that allowing the station would interfere with other stations being able to attract advertising revenue, alleged to be a fundamental right under the quasi-constitutional Basic Law – Freedom of Occupation, whilst ignoring the fact that the appellants acted in bad faith (Yossi Sarid was simultaneously campaigning for Abu Nathan to get the Nobel Peace Prize for the Voice of Peace),  and with no mention of the other quasi-constitutional right, that of Freedom of Speech, defended successfully by Judge Agranat in 73/53 Bagatz Kol HaAm vs. Ministry of Interior, 1953 where Ben Gurion’s attempt to silence a communist newspaper was thwarted well before the ‘legal revolution’. Aharon Barak creatively misinterpreted the basic Laws of 1991 to give the courts unprecedented and anti-democratic powers to overthrow Knesset legislation and widened the definition of legal standing to allow the courts to intervene at the request of legislators, non-profits and others.
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