This is the story of an Aussie battler versus one of the world’s biggest and most prestigious industries – a three-year legal fight over the use of the word champagne.
In one corner is Sydney-based Jayne Powell, a widely known and respected expert on sparkling wines who goes by the nickname “Champagne Jayne”.
In the other is the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), representing the $6.7 billion French champagne industry.
The CIVC launched legal action against Powell over her use of the name “Champagne Jayne”. Among a string of complaints by the CIVC, the organisation said she also talked about sparkling wines and therefore infringed on the champagne trademark. Powell was also accused of engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct in implying that she had an “affiliation with the Champagne sector” and made false representations under Australian Consumer Law. The CIVC’s concerns extended to her mentioning sparkling wines during “Champagne Jayne” presentations.
Powell stood accused of using “the glamour, Frenchness and accoutrements otherwise associated with Champagne wines and the name Champagne” to also promote sparkling wines, which had the potential to fool people who didn’t know that wines such as Arras, a sparkling from Tasmania, were not champagne.
The CIVC began Federal Court action in December 2013, arguing that she had “damaged the goodwill of the Champagne sector”. A year earlier, it opposed her attempt to trademark the name “Champagne Jayne”. That issue remains unresolved.
Jayne Powell launched her wine education and consultancy business in 2003 and wrote the award-winning book 2011 book “Champagne, Behind the Bubbles” in 2011. She was named the champagne educator of the year in London in 2012 and the same year named a “Dame Chevalier” by the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne, a separate body to the CIVC.
Last month Justice Jonathan Beach of the Federal Court of Victoria ruled Powell could continue to be known as Champagne Jayne, allowing her to continue her business, website, Facebook account and other social media under that name. It also dismissed the CIVC’s claim that she had contravened the Australian Grape and Wine Authority Act by discussing sparkling wines “under a false or misleading description” because she was a promoter, not a seller of wine.
“I am so relieved and pleased that the Court found I could keep my ‘Champagne Jayne’ name,” Powell said.
The wine educator, who received her nickname from friends at university, turned to crowd-funding in a bid to fight the legal action and her lawyer worked pro bono on the case. She said she felt compelled to fight the case because her nickname, as well as being a centrepiece of her business, was “part of my identity”.
“I felt that the nature of CIVC’s demands over-reached, and I was not prepared to capitulate,” she said.
“Yes it has hurt a lot to be taken to court by the representative body of the industry I have supported for so many years. The consequences of defending my reputation and integrity have been painful and far reaching.”
“This has been one of the most challenging and difficult periods of my life. Three years of litigation have taken a very substantial personal and financial toll, and its not quite over yet.”
It was not a total victory for Powell, with the Court making some pointed remarks about social media, finding that on some occasions Powell, who uses the @champagnejayne handle on Twitter, did not make it clear enough that sparkling wine is not champagne.
While champagne makes up less than 10% of world’s sparkling wine production, it’s worth around 50% of total value in the sector. Powell believes her advocacy of sparkling wines, which she says is about 10% of her work, was the reason the CIVC launched the legal action.
Powell says she’s chastened by the court’s view on her tweets and now uses the hashtag #thisisnotchampagne when mentioning sparkling wines.
“I take on board the lessons from the judgment about this, and am reviewing my social media use as a result,” she said.
“This is a significant judgment for social media users in Australia, particularly when promoting products, even if not paid to do so.”
Powell says Justice Beach’s ruling means people are liable under Australian Consumer Law for promoting a product, even if they’re not paid, because there is the potential for people to be misled.
Discussing Twitter, Beach said “First, a tweet may be fleeting, but its effect or influence on a reader may be more enduring… Secondly, although particular communications may be fleeting in real time, nevertheless there is usually a more permanent record of the communications contained and preserved… for anyone to access at a later stage. Third, although the communications may be fleeting in real time, the repetition over an extended time frame of similar types of communications may demonstrate a pattern of more enduring and potentially infringing conduct.”
Despite the ordeal, Powell says she doesn’t hold a grudge against the industry.
“However, as hard as it is to say right now, I respect the fact that the CIVC goes to so much effort to protect the champagne industry, and the integrity of the appellation. Hopefully, and given our shared passion for champagne, we can move on from this,” she said.
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