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Controversial Ad Campaign Banned - Again

December 6, 2001

Germany's high court bans a photograph from an eight-year-old ad campaign by Italian clothing designer Benetton, almost a year after another court lifted the ban.

The controversial photographImage: Oliviero Toscani

Photographs from a controversial "shock advertising" campaign by Italian clothing company Benetton have been banned again, Germany's high court ruled Thursday afternoon.

The photographs, which appeared in the magazine Stern in 1993, showed a naked backside on which the words HIV positive were stamped. The campaign, which also included photographs of a duck covered in oil and a child laborer, incited outrage across Europe. Critics soon filed a suit to put a stop to the campaign, saying the photographs were immoral and exploited the plight of the subjects for the clothing company' own again.

Germany's high court agreed with the critics arguments in 1995 and banned the campaign. Five years later, in December 2000, Germany's constitutional court overturned the decision. The constitutional court ruled that the photographs did not violate fair competition laws, as the high court ruled, and that the campaign was worthwhile because it brought attention to injustices.

On Thursday, that decision was overturned again.

In its most recent decision, the high court ruled that Benetton used the stigmatization of those suffering from the HIV virus to boost their profits. The campaign, the court ruled, damaged the dignity of those infected with the virus.

The clothing company, renowned for its controversial "current affairs" advertising campaign, has argued the exact opposite.

"With these images, Benetton wished to highlight not only the main channels through which HIV can be transmitted, but also the dangers of stigmatizing certain social groups and their lifestyles," the company wrote of the photographs, taken by Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani.

A spokeswoman told Deutsche Welle Online that the company would not comment on the decision. She said the photograph was not being used in any current advertising campaign.

In late 1994, the HIV-Positive campaign was presented with the "Enseigne d'or 94" for the best campaign of the year, an award given by the French Retailers Association in Paris.