HOWTO keep your parody site safe from legal bullies

Hugh sez, "The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Corynne McSherry has put together a great whitepaper with tips on how to avoid having your parody or gripe site shut down."

Here's a story we hear a lot at EFF: You think BadCo, Inc. is a bad actor and you've developed a really cool site to tell the world why. Maybe just by griping about them or maybe through a bit of parody. Fast forward two weeks: you're basking in the pleasure of calling BadCo out when bam! You find out your site's been shut down. You call your internet service provider to find out what's going on. After way too much time climbing phone trees and sitting on hold you get an answer--Badco has claimed that your site violates its intellectual property rights.

All too often, the targets of critics and parodists try to strike back with accusations of copyright or trademark infringement. While such accusations may be something of a badge of honor--after all, at the very least, it means you've got your target's attention--they can also be frustrating and intimidating. And, if you rely on a service provider with little interest in protecting free speech, allegations of infringement can result in your site being shut down with little or no warning.

Six Simple Steps You Can Take To Protect Your Gripe or Parody Site (Thanks, Hugh!)


  1. Not just gripe sites get hit. Fansites that get a little too intense also get scrutinized. Then there are the players (I have personal experience with this) who claim to represent the offended party, and either try to demand a payoff to not sue you, or attempt to scoop up the abandoned site should you be frightened away. Threats –> owner rolls over –> profit!

  2. On several of the parody sites I’ve put up, I use a variant of the following in the footer:

    “Parody copyright © 2008 Original content Copyright © 2008 Apple Inc. | Parody protected by 17 U.S.C. Sec. 107.”

  3. If Badco accuses you of “violating its intellectual property rights”, that is vague to the point of being meaningless. Copyright law and trademark law are totally different, and each has (different) specific requirements. There are other “intellectual property” laws too, though experts don’t always agree on which ones they are, and they are all different too.

    Any statement formulated in terms of “intellectual property” spreads confusion. If Badco talks about “intellectual property”, that is probably meant to confuse, to distract your attention (and your provider’s attention) from all real laws, and from all real legal issues about your site. Badco doesn’t want the case to be judged based on real laws. It wants to intimidate you.

    So the first thing you should do is demand a specific complaint instead of “intellectual property” handwaving. That will be the necessary information to show to a lawyer.

    If your provider is thinking about disconnecting your site, and if wants to act like a reputable business, it owes you specific reasons why. So tell your provider too, “Don’t give me ‘intellectual property’ handwaving. What exactly is your complaint about my site?”

    If the provider went so far as to take your site down without discussing the complaint with you first, that business does not respect its customers and does not deserve anyone’s custom.

    See for more explanation of why the term “intellectual property” must be rejected.

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