A Los Angeles judge has ruled that food giant Dole Foods must pay $200,000 (1.4 million kronor) to cover the lawyers’ fees incurred by the Swedish filmmakers behind a controversial documentary criticising the company.
Dole originally sued Swedish director, Fredrik Gertten, producer Margareta Jangard, and production company WG Film in July 2009 for defamation after the documentary Bananas!* premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
“I’m very happy. It’s a huge relief for us after having such a huge weight on our shoulders and cool that a judge has thrown out the case. It also shows people and other filmmakers that big companies cannot get away with suing them to try to silence them,” Gertten told The Local on Monday.
The film chronicles the efforts of Los Angeles lawyer Juan Dominguez in representing Nicaraguan fruit workers who allege they became sterile after Dole sprayed them with a banned pesticide.
After the lawsuit was filed, the filmmakers won the support of several Swedish MPs, burger chain Max, which stopped selling Dole fruit salad, and grocers ICA and Axfood, which demanded to meet with the Swedish subsidiary of Dole.
In addition to the financial penalty, Dole is prevented from suing Gertten, Jangard and WG Film again in the future.
The ruling clears the way for companies and broadcasters to screen the film with no legal worries, Gertten said. Oscilloscope Laboratories, helmed by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, holds the theatrical and distribution rights to the film in the US.
The original defamation lawsuit was thrown out in October 2009, after which Gertten replied with a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) filed in Los Angeles.
These suits intend to censor, intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
California has a unique variant of anti-SLAPP legislation, making it a popular destination for such suits.
Gertten pointed out that he will not see a penny of the penalty. His lawyer, Lincoln Bandlow, has asked him for $250,000, but Gertten said that this is not the full costs. Gertten’s insurance company will pay up to $300,000 in legal fees.
In addition, Gertten, Jangard and the production company have invested a significant amount of their own time and finances into the lawsuit. However, Gertten pointed out that Dole has spent considerably more fighting him, Jangard and their production company.
“They’ve spent about $1 million on the case. Their PR company has called all the journalists who have interviewed us and translated all the articles from Swedish. They have also made their lawyers available for interviews in Swedish media,” he said.
Dole’s penalty will be paid directly to the insurance company, but it can still appeal the ruling. However, an appeal would only cover the financial penalty, not the ruling on future lawsuits.
“I would be much happier if they contacted and said, ‘Sorry, here’s the money,’ but that’s not going to happen,” said Gertten.