Chamber of Commerces tries to Ralph Lauren the Yes Men

Rebecca from EFF sez, "The Yes Men prank -- they put out a press release and held a spoof news conference on Monday, claiming that the Chamber of Commerce had reversed its position and would stop lobbying against a climate bill currently in the Senate -- apparently hasn't embarrassed the Chamber of Commerce enough yet. Attorneys for the group have issued a takedown demand for the website connected to the prank, claiming copyright infringement. The demand ignores the parodic nature of the stunt (parody enjoys First Amendment protection) and may just serve to put the Yes Men's criticism in the news for one more day."

EFF: Chamber of Commerce Takes Aim at Yes Men (Thanks, Rebecca!)

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  1. Correct me if I’m not up to date on US copyright law, but aside from the parody proviso for fair use, isn’t everything US government does public domain anyway? As a US taxpayer, you already paid for that CoC logo to be created, isn’t it free for use by any US citizen?

    How can they claim a copyright on a public domain image?

  2. So when the Klan puts up a “parodic” video of a black man claiming to be from the NAACP and opposing affirmative action…

  3. >>So when the Klan puts up a “parodic” video of a black man claiming to be from the NAACP and opposing affirmative action…

    I can’t speak for the Boingers but us free-speech extremists will defend it just as vociferously. It’s either free speech for all, or it’s not free speech at all. It’s really that simple.

  4. Was this really parody? It was definitely a hoax, but in what way was it parody?

    If anything, I think the Yes Men would need to worry more about fraud charges or charges of market manipulation than copyright infringement. A change of position by the CoC could move markets.

    1. I agree with Spycho. This is technically fraud, good intentions aside. Not covered by free speech, I would think.

      1. “Attorneys for the group have issued a takedown demand for the website connected to the prank, claiming copyright infringement.”

        I have no doubt that the Chamber would bring a fraud lawsuit against the Yes Men if they thought it would stick. However, all the lawyers have done is claim copyright infringement. Obviously, that won’t stick either, but it’s a notoriously easy, risk-free way to legally harass someone. Plus, it often results in compliance even if the demand doesn’t have a basis in law. There should be a term like SLAPP specifically for copyright-related legal threats.

  5. I think the Ralph Lauren verb is a little premature. Isn’t there an earlier, possibly higher-profile bogus cease-and-desist order that would warrant another company’s shaming? Sure, Rachel Maddow mentioned it on her show, but RL can’t have been the first ones to lie in a letter.

  6. >>If anything, I think the Yes Men would need to worry more about fraud charges or charges of market manipulation than copyright infringement. A change of position by the CoC could move markets.

    So parody ceases to be parody the moment it has an impact? The simple fact that it could move markets isn’t enough. In order for a tort to be brought on that account, the Chamber would have to demonstrate specific harm done to them as a body- damn impossible. The Chamber is not a business in and of itself, and cannot argue that the movement of markets was enough to undermine their mission.

    Put another way, if I set up an elaborate stage in the park and impersonated Barack Obama, is it my fault when people actually believe I’m Barack Obama? Am I suddenly responsible for their lost time as they wait for the president to appear and the money lost in time by a news organization chasing the story? No, because none of these can prove specific and substantial harm done to them solely through my own doing. The same goes for the businessman who just sold all his stock when he heard the “President” say something about health care reform.

    They could argue malicious intent and that the Yes-men were trying to manipulate stock price for material gain, but that’s simply not true. Fraud is not an issue here. They would still have no case.

    (IANAL)

  7. Anon #1, although Antonius notes that the CoC isn’t the government, it’s worth adding that the public-domain nature of federal government works very specifically does not apply to logos and seals of various agencies, which are protected. And for good reasons that should be clear with a moment’s thought.

    That aside, I have to chip in with Spycho and Keneke. I looked over the Yes Men page and it looks nothing like a parody to me. It looks like they honestly want to make people think the CoC made the website. There’s no mocking, no humor, just serious-looking text on an authentic-looking website.

    I can’t say I like it. If this is okay then it seems to me to be equally valid to put up a website at BoingBoing.com using the BoingBoing logo and layout, and use it to post opinion pieces of my choice under the byline “Cory Doctorow”.

    Free speech means you can say what you’d like anonymously or under your own name, not while pretending to be someone else. The exceptions for satire and parody are important, but there has to be… well, satire or parody involved in some way.

    1. I looked over the Yes Men page and it looks nothing like a parody to me. It looks like they honestly want to make people think the CoC made the website. There’s no mocking, no humor, just serious-looking text on an authentic-looking website.

      If I do an impression of a famous person as political commentary, and I totally nail it – you know, I copy their voice and affect so perfectly it really seems like it could be them…am I then guilty of a crime? Is doing a good impression a crime, whereas doing a bad impression would be perfectly legal? I doubt this is what you’re saying.

      If I make a deadpan statement that’s actually sarcastic political commentary, and some people miss the sarcasm and take my statement as completely serious, am I criminally liable for that? Again, doubtful. (unless of course, you’re in an airport. All bets are off in an airport)

      What you’re ultimately speculating on is the /intent/ of the site. You say that the intent is to fool people into thinking the Yes Men actually are the Chamber of Commerce. This is a much more difficult point to prove, and the fact that the Yes Men obviously had to know that they stood no chance at all of successfully impersonating the Chamber of Commerce is a significant mitigating factor. If the CoC hadn’t barged in and revealed the prank, the Yes Men would have revealed it shortly afterwards, because that’s how they always do these things.

      And, as a point of reference, they’ve never had charges successfully pressed against them for the pranks they’ve pulled, many of them much more brazen than this.

  8. Hello Mr Chemist.

    I didn’t say that it stopped being parody because it might have an impact. I just don’t see how this was parody in the first place. Instead I would classify it as a hoax or a prank. But opponents will classify it as fraud.

    If the CoC sues, it would probably be for some sort of defamation. If a charge of market manipulation is at all feasible, I think it would have to be the SEC rather than the CoC that would make such a case, or perhaps a harmed investor.

    1. I’m with you. I can’t figure out how this is parody either. Unless it’s as simple as “Impersonating someone” + “Making fun of them” = Parody.

      Somehow that doesn’t feel right here…

  9. >>If the CoC sues, it would probably be for some sort of defamation.

    Are you from the UK? The only reason I ask is because in the US, bringing a defamation case against someone, especially under these circumstances, is like teaching a pig to sing: It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig. It’s very difficult to win a case like that, especially if you’re a public figure, much less a public institution or organization.

    The SEC wouldn’t do anything either, for similar reasons- but mostly because it’s not in their mandate to deal with this sort of thing. Hell, I’m even at a loss to define what this sort of thing is, should the SEC suddenly be given the authority to do anything about it. It’s not in any way insider-trading.

    This is especially true since speech can always manipulate the market in unforeseen ways. What do you think happened to stock price when Oprah told people about KFC’s fried chicken giveaway? What do you think happened when KFC was unprepared for Oprah’s stunt (whatever the intent)? I’m sorry, but markets have always been subject to externalities in real life- even if neoliberals want you to believe they exist in a vacuum. The idea that people should not have a full range of expression available to them because it might (in some odd ineffable way you fail to elucidate convincingly) toy with our pwecious, pwecious markets- is fucking ridonculous yo.

    1. @ The Chemist:
      What do you think happened to stock price when Oprah told people about KFC’s fried chicken giveaway? What do you think happened when KFC was unprepared for Oprah’s stunt (whatever the intent)?

      That’s a pretty piss-poor example since KFC paid Oprah to promote their grilled (not fried) chicken. If the ad campaign was a “stunt” then it was theirs, not hers.

  10. The event did expropriate the logo of the CofC for purpose of representing this group as the CofC, and I’m sure they used similar imagery in the press release. That said, these guys claimed to represent everything from the Bush campaign to the WTO at various points and got away with it, although in the case of Bush, his image is pretty much public domain, no?

  11. This copyright claim actually might have some merit since the Yes Men appear to have cloned the CoC’s site in order to seamlessly link their “hoax” page to the real deal.

    The “Parody” claim might get them off the hook for Trademark Infringement, but I don’t believe parody necessarily covers content.

  12. Well, “hoax” presupposes they intend to fool anyone for longer than the duration of the stunt.

    And based on their history, I’d say they planned to come clean all along. Which pretty much clears them of fraud, and, I believe, sets the parody protection in place.

    whatever the outcome, the stunt is probably more effective as it turned out than they (presumably) intended it to end.

  13. Yeah, this feels less like parody and more like fraud. I’m not sure why they chose copyright infringement as the basis for the takedown though.

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