Fortescue Metals, the mining group controlled by the West Australian billionaire Andrew Forrest, has dropped legal action against two financial data companies that published information about prices its Chinese customers paid.
The lawsuit, against publisher Argus Media and S&P subsidiary Platts, was abandoned after a judge in the UK refused to extend an order forbidding the outlets from publishing the pricing information.
Argus and S&P said the judge’s decision, which allowed them to continue publishing the pricing information, was a victory for press freedom, while Fortescue said it was disappointed in the decision but pleased the court found the data was confidential.
S&P had also launched legal action in the US, asking the courts there to ban Fortescue from continuing the British lawsuit and accusing the company of trying to suppress the data so it could charge higher prices.
S&P hits back in court after Fortescue Metals takes legal action to prevent publication of ore price
Fortescue denied any wrongdoing.
The mining company, the world’s fourth-biggest iron ore producer, had claimed to the high court of England and Wales that information Argus and Platts were publishing about the discount to a price benchmark it was offering to Chinese customers was confidential.
But in a judgment handed down on Friday, judge Robert Miles said Argus and Platts had published the rate, known as the “DMTU discount”, since 2014 and Fortescue only began to object late last year.
Fortescue’s “real concern appears to be not so much that disclosure of the DMTU discount would hinder their ability to negotiate new contracts or perform existing contracts with customers,” he said.
“It is that the claimants would prefer their competitors not to know their DMTU discount as this might lead to undercutting.”
He said there was no evidence this had happened in the years in which Argus and Platts published the DMTU discount.
“Moreover, even if it were the case that disclosure had led to competitive behaviour by other producers, that could well be considered to be in the interests of their potential customers,” he said.
A Fortescue spokesman confirmed the company had abandoned the proceeding.
“We are disappointed with the outcome of the UK high court of justice decision, which declined to grant immediate interim protection of our customers’ confidential contract pricing information,” he said.
“We are, however, very pleased that the court agreed with Fortescue that our customers’ contract pricing is confidential. Protecting that confidentiality was one of the key reasons Fortescue commenced these proceedings.”
The chairman and chief executive of Argus, Adrian Binks, said he was “delighted with the judge’s decision”.
“This is an important step forward in this case, which is actually about fundamental press freedoms.”
An S&P spokeswoman said Platts was “pleased the UK high court recognised the importance of our right to independently report market information obtained through legitimate journalistic practices”.
“This is at the heart of the increased transparency price reporting agencies such as S&P Global Platts provide to commodity markets and to press freedoms more broadly,” she said.
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