The Madrid Provincial Appellate Court orders the mayor of O Grove to compensate the author and publisher for the damages caused by the seizure of the book ‘Fariña’
In 2016 Mr. Bea, former mayor of O Grove, sued the journalist Carretero and the publisher, Libros del KO, due to breach of his right to honor following publication of the book ‘Fariña’. The book, on which the internationally successful series of the same name was based, recounts the history of drug trafficking in Galicia since the 80s and briefly mentions that Mr. Bea was also involved.
Mr. Bea claimed 500,000 euros for damages and applied for an injunction consisting of the immediate withdrawal of the book. The first instance judge of Collado Villalba surprisingly granted the injunction banning the book – something exceptional in the Spanish legal system. The seizure of the book coincided with the launch of the television series, which caused a huge media impact. Mr. Bea, who was only briefly mentioned in the book, became the real star, with the consequent damage to his reputation.
The decision by the first instant court was subsequently overturned by the Madrid Provincial Appellate Court on the grounds that the isolated references to Mr. Bea were covered by the right to information. Following a thorough verification of what had in fact occurred, the Appeal Court found that the account was reliable and objective. It also considered that the book did not use specifically slanderous or degrading expressions that were inconsistent with the news that circulated widely at the time of the events. The court therefore concluded that the limits of the right to information had not been overstepped.
Cases such as these may also be covered by article 20.1.b) of the Spanish Constitution, which expressly recognizes the right to literary, artistic, scientific and technical production and creation”. When addressing the rights to artistic creation and honor of persons included in literary works, case law has decided to give precedence to the right to artistic creation, on the understanding that “it protects the creation of a fictional universe that may take information from real life as points of reference, but which precludes the possibility of using criteria of truth or instrumentality to restrict a creative and consequently, subjective work” (Constitutional Court judgement in ‘El jardín de Villa Valeria’ case). In that case the Constitutional Court concluded that a strict assessment of truth was not applicable to freedom of creation and that exaggeration or bad taste may be permitted in that context.
The Madrid Provincial Appellate court has now issued a decision on the claim filed by the publisher and Carretero due to the damages caused by the seizure of the book for almost four months. Mr. Bea will have to compensate the defendants in the amount of 3,437.96 and 13,042.21 euros, respectively, for the losses caused by the injunction.
Mr. Bea argued in his defense that, at the end of the day, he had given the book free publicity thanks to the seizure. The truth is that Fariña has become a best seller, selling over 120,000 copies and Mr. Bea not only did not repair the damage to his honor, but instead has seen it aggravated.
There is a lesson to be learned: make sure you carry out a careful assessment of the Streisand effect (media impact of a proceeding) and the possible damages that may be awarded if a decision is overturned before you try to have a book banned.