Greenpeace vs. Rugby World Cup: Trademark Infringement or Fair Use?

With the Rugby World Cup in France just around the corner, Greenpeace has launched a campaign titled "TotalPollution: A Dirty Game" to criticize TotalEnergies' sponsorship of the tournament. Central to this campaign is a video that prominently features the trademark "Rugby World Cup France 2023," owned by Rugby World Cup Limited (RWCL). In response, RWCL has issued a cease and desist letter, alleging trademark infringement. Greenpeace, however, asserts that European trademark law permits the use of registered trademarks by third parties for non-commercial purposes. This case raises intriguing questions about "fair use" and the boundaries of trademark law.


Igor Demcak

Greenpeace's campaign video, which uses the Rugby World Cup trademark without authorization, has ignited a legal debate over whether such use constitutes infringement under trademark law. RWCL, through its legal representative, has demanded that Greenpeace cease and desist immediately, citing infringement of intellectual property rights. This demand highlights the inherent tension between the protection of trademarks and the right to freedom of expression, especially when the entity using the trademark is a non-profit organization like Greenpeace.

The Concept of "Fair Use"

In the realm of trademark law, the concept of "fair use" is a multifaceted and often contentious issue. It hinges on the delicate balance between safeguarding the exclusive rights of trademark owners and protecting the broader interests of society, including the freedom of expression, artistic creativity, and public commentary. "Fair use" exceptions are designed to permit certain limited uses of trademarks that do not infringe upon the owner's rights.

The mention of "use in the course of trade" in Article 10(2) of Directive (EU) 2015/2436 hints at the possibility of a "fair use" exception, provided the unauthorized use does not involve the trading of goods or services. This raises the crucial question: Does Greenpeace's use of the trademark fall within the realm of "fair use"?

Non-Commercial Use vs. Fair Use

While Greenpeace contends that its use of the Rugby World Cup trademark does not infringe RWCL's rights due to its non-commercial nature, this argument may not hold up under scrutiny. "Fair use" exceptions for non-commercial use typically pertain to activities such as academic articles, media reports, and commentary, which do not have a profit motive.

However, Greenpeace's reliance on donations and external funding complicates this argument. The "TotalPollution: A Dirty Game" campaign, by its very nature, seeks to raise awareness and support for its cause. It is plausible that this campaign could lead to increased donations from individuals and organizations sympathetic to Greenpeace's mission. This raises the question of whether the campaign can genuinely be considered non-commercial in nature.


If RWCL were to pursue legal action, it could challenge Greenpeace's assertion of non-commercial use by arguing that the campaign indirectly benefits Greenpeace financially through increased donations. This would test the boundaries of what constitutes "fair use" under European trademark law.

Ultimately, this case serves as a reminder that trademark law and the boundaries of "fair use" is not always a clear-cut domain. Whether this dispute serves as a precedent for future cases or prompts a reevaluation of trademark law remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it underscores the need for ongoing discussions and legal interpretations to ensure a fair balance between trademark protection and the exercise of fundamental rights. As the Rugby World Cup kicks off, the Greenpeace campaign stands as a symbol of the ongoing struggle to define the limits of trademark use.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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