In a ruling dated 7 November 2007, the Paris court of Appeal dismissed cancellation action taken by the Interprofessional Committee for Champagne Wines (CIVC) and the National Institute for Appellations of Origin (INAO) action against the “Champomy” trademarks.
As justification for its decision, the Court found that “having had great commercial success over roughly 20 years of uninterrupted use, (its owner) managed to establish a unique world around its product…” The Court evoked the “pioneering character” of “Champomy” with regard to champagnes.
(We will not get into the Court’s obvious contradiction between a “unique world” and a “pioneering champagne product” which by definition is what made this Appellation famous).
As the Evin Law is a matter of public order, the judges would certainly have had no trouble taking control of the situation. However, the supreme discretion of trial judges must not be called into question.
On the other hand, the inaction of certain anti-alcoholism associations ̶ the largest among them being the national association for alcohol and addiction prevention (ANPAA) ̶ is somewhat perplexing.
Moreover, the ANPAA website clearly states that one of its major objectives is the prevention of alcoholism.
« At present, the A.N.P.A.A. carries out activities touching on all addictions: drug use, drug abuse and the inappropriate use of alcohol, […]. The risks associated with these behaviors for the individual, their entourage and the wider society are examined from the global, psychological, bio-medical and social perspectives. ANPAA’s intervention runs along a continuum from prevention and early intervention to risk reduction…”.
How then is it conceivable that a product recognized by the Court as a “pioneering champagne product” and with a marketing strategy that only targets children, can be overlooked? A simple look at this drink’s website is enough to show that the product solely targets a child audience.
This situation seems all the more ironic given ANPAA successful attacks in 2007 and 2008 on the Val-de-Loire-Interloire wines campaign whose slogan was “Cabernet d’Anjou. Who said that youth and delicateness don’t go together?”, on the grounds that it aimed at inciting young people to drink alcohol (Court of Cassation, 26 May 2008)!
At first glance, it appears that Champomy provides a much more flagrant incentive for young people to drink alcohol.
In this case, even if it means painting a dull picture, why not have a marketing campaign showing children drinking non-alcoholic drinks in “fake” champagne, wine or even brandy bottles, with a chocolate cigarette sticking out the side of their mouths?
Let us not forget that whole purpose of the Evin Law is that “propaganda or advertising, whether direct or indirect, in favour of alcohol drinks […] are exclusively authorized on certain restricted media (Article L 3323-1 of the French Public Health Code).
Yet, nothing in the law states that such communications must be voluntary, or that they must be made by the alcoholic beverage manufacturers themselves.
In short, it matters little who is doing the communicating or whether there is any intention to communicate.
The Courts have been very (too) strict in drawing lessons from that experience by first condemning the Les Echos newspaper for their “Art of living” supplement on wines and champagnes (Paris Court of First Instance, 26 June 2007, ANPAA c/SA Les Echos), an then Le Parisien Libéré newspaper for its article entitled “The champagne triumph” (Paris Court of First Instance, 20 December 2007 – ANPAA c/ SNC Le Parisien Libéré).
In both cases, the judges’ motives leave no room for interpretation: It does not matter that the texts or photographs were not associated with a particular trademark “since any element that serves as an incentive to drink alcohol is likely to be considered as illegal advertising”.
In both of these cases as well, it was the ANPAA that initiated legal action.
In light of these two decisions and of the reasons that led to them, it would be euphemistic to say that any legal action taken by ANPAA against the Champomy trademark stands a chance at being successful. However, perhaps in a paradoxical way, the ANPAA prefers to target professionals in the wine industry for legal action, at the risk of being accused of “subjectivity”?