Could Dutch newspaper Spits call the former Member of Parliament for the PVV James Sharpe ‘porn baron’ and ‘king of online porn’? That question was the reason for the preliminary relief proceedings which Sharpe initiated in 2011 against Spits. In two articles Spits jokingly used the above-mentioned terms, with which it referred to an affair around Sharpe’s activities in the past with, inter alia, a company called Translease, a business that had registered various pornographic domain names in its name and also exploited an online reference service for sex clubs and brothels.
Sharpe’s claims in the first instance for damages and rectification were rejected by the Court of Amsterdam in preliminary relief proceedings, but the Court did impose a ban on Spits calling Sharpe porn baron or other names of that purport in the future. This restriction of the freedom of the press was a reason for Spits to appeal against the judgment. The Court of Appeal of Amsterdam rendered its judgment on 20 December 2011.
The Court of Appeal ruled that it is sufficiently plausible that in the period when Sharpe worked at Translease as business development director (1996-2001), the company focused substantially on the distribution of pornographic content. Sharpe himself said about the title of business development director − which was published in his CV on the PVV website − that it suggests more than it actually is. This argument was ignored by the Court of Appeal: the media could rely on the job description as mentioned in the CV, and could ascribe a normal meaning thereto. In other words: the media could assume that Sharpe indeed had a director’s position within Translease. Thus, the fact that he has ‘blown up’ the title himself cannot be held against the media.
Furthermore, according to the Court of Appeal, Sharpe has insufficiently substantiated that during the performance of his position he had nothing to do with pornography and he did not hold an influential position, although this would have been obvious for him. All in all, according to the Court of Appeal there is sufficient factual ground for the expressions. This, together with the fact that as a (former) politician − who, moreover, does not exclude his return to the Lower House of Parliament in the future − Sharpe must have a thicker skin than an ordinary citizen, resulted in the Court of Appeal’s final rejection of all Sharpe’s claims. The judgment was quashed.