The Yes Men vs. the Chamber of Commerce

The first item in the platform of the United States Pirate Party calls for the "abolition of the DMCA and related subsequent provisions within copyright law." The Pirate Party elaborates:
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 provided for legal repercussions for circumvention of copy protection, as well as making backup copies of any media illegal. This act has resulted in the intimidation, prosecution, and/or conviction of tens of thousands of people in our country--people who are otherwise law-abiding and who are not interested in being labeled thieves or crooks for doing what the internet was intended to do: share ideas. This is therefore a First Amendment issue, being freedom of expression, and we call for a repeal of this highly illogical and vertically-oriented law.
While one might think that the DMCA protects copyright holders against illegal downloading, file sharing and the "piracy" of media, it has also become a tool for the prosecution of political speech and activity. Consider the case of the US Chamber of Commerce vs. the Yes Men. On October 19th, the activist group – which specializes in what they call "identity correction: impersonating big time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them" – effectively employed this method to convince a number of corporate news outlets that the US Chamber of Commerce had reversed its position on climate change policy. As the Yes Men tell it:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a dramatic announcement at the National Press Club today, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reversed its position on climate change policy, and promised to immediately cease lobbying against the Kerry-Boxer bill.


Within minutes of the Chamber's dramatic announcement, it was revealed that the "Chamber spokesperson" was an impostor, and the press conference an elaborate hoax designed by activists to draw attention to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "troglodytic" fight against climate change legislation. At the close of the news conference, a visibly rattled Chamber of Commerce spokesperson (Eric Wohlschlegel) barged into the room and declared the event a fraud. (Video here.)

The US Chamber of Commerce has now responded with a lawsuit, basing its claim on the DMCA. The New York Times reports:

The U.S. Chamber filed a lawsuit yesterday against activists who last week staged a fake news conference announcing that the business trade group had changed its policy on climate legislation. The suit filed in federal district court cites trademark and copyright infringement and said that the Yes Men group staged the press conference stunt for financial gain . . .

Yes Men member Jacques Servin, who also goes by the alias Andy Bichlbaum, in response to the lawsuit said "it's really disappointing that the chamber would take this approach to something that's clearly political speech." Asked whether using a group's trademark and copyrighted information is free speech, Servin said "yes."

Servin, who is named in the lawsuit, was one of the leaders of the Oct. 19 stunt in which the Yes Men held a press conference at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C. Prior to the press conference, the group set up a Web site at the address The lawsuit came after the Yes Men refused to take down the site, the chamber press release said. The chamber on Thursday sent a letter to Hurricane Electric, the Internet service provider of the site, demanding they remove the fraudulent content, said chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder. Hurricane took down the page, Fielder said. The Yes Men then restored the site through a new ISP, Fielder said. The fake site is up today.

The Web site appears identical to the chamber's actual site but contains a fake "press releases" and "speeches" page, the chamber's lawsuit said. It also includes a link to the actual chamber site -- what the lawsuit called "painstaking, sophisticated design," -- to ensure that the fake identity of the site would be concealed. The Yes Men on its Web site criticized the chamber action against the fake Web site Friday, saying it resulted in Hurricane Electric temporarily also taking down 400 other businesses.

The Yes Men have been targeted by their marks with DMCA complaints before. As Interactivist points out:

The Yes Men have in the past received DMCA notices from Exxon, Dow Chemical, DeBeers, and the New York Times. In each case, the the Yes Men (represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation) refused to comply, and prevailed. Even the George W. Bush campaign sent a complaint to try to interrupt service to, in 2000, resulting in extensive ridicule that culminated in Bush's mind-boggling gaffe that "There ought to be limits to freedom."

In their response to the Chamber's lawsuit, Andy Bichlbaum writes for the Yes Men:

The Chamber complains that we've misled the public. But the Chamber misleads the public every day when it claims to speak for 3 million business, effectively masquerading as a populist lobbying organization - when a closer look reveals it represents barely a tenth of that. In fact, the Chamber repeated that debatable number in the press release sent out announcing the lawsuit against us. Now that's chutzpa!

Bragging about their size is only the tip of the iceberg, of course. Among many other things, the Chamber routinely undermines American democracy by spending millions to oppose sane climate legislation, health care reform, and employee free choice - not to mention so-called 'grassroots' campaigns to kill banking regulations on derivatives trading. That's right: the Chamber is lobbying to prop up the same system that left the American economy in a shambles.

No wonder 63% of Americans distrust the news: powerful business lobbies and their massively funded PR campaigns are subverting the media every day, expensively and effectively, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It's shameful that the Chamber has decided to lash out at a public interest group like ours for trying to push back and call attention to the Chamber's outrageous positions.

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