Yet More Collateral Damage From SOPA/PIPA: Activism Through Satire

from the you-can't-say-that dept

Among the many high-profile organizations that are joining the SOPA blackout today is Greenpeace. That's great, except that you can't read an important post on the Greenpeace UK web site about why it is opposing SOPA and PIPA (it should be available at 5 pm PST from the home page or here.)

Quite naturally Greenpeace looks at the SOPA/PIPA legislation from the perspective of an extremely successful activist organization – and it doesn't like what it sees. That's because of the way it works against some of the biggest and most powerful businesses in the world - by turning their own words and brands against them:

We use corporations' own language, their own marketing, their own strength against them - which is sometimes the only way that an entirely supporter-funded operation like ours can afford to put a spotlight on the negative side of their operations.

Thing is, while court case after court case has agreed with us that parody is a protected form of free speech, the corporations at the pointy end of our parodies tend to disagree. Exxon/Esso took us to court in France over alleged copyright infringement of their logo when we launched a campaign against them:

Esso said we were in violation of their intellectual property rights. We said it was free speech. The court agreed with us, and in an historic decision, we won. But had that decision been left to Exxon/Esso, we would have been shut down.

Nestlé's Kit Kat brand famously failed when it attempted to have our spoof video featuring its brand - and critical of their support for rainforest destruction - removed from YouTube for trademark violation. Hundreds of our supporters reposted the video on other sites and their own Facebook profiles.
Greenpeace certainly isn't alone in deploying mockery online to needle companies about the things they'd rather keep quiet: it's particularly effective for smaller groups that can't afford expensive, conventional campaigns. But such satire frequently depends upon using authentic elements from the marketing materials of the organizations they tackle. The extremely broad framing of SOPA/PIPA means that the large, well-lawyered enterprises of the world will have powerful new weapons for suppressing this kind of protest by claiming that their intellectual property is being harmed as a result.

The penalties are so disproportionate – losing access to the main payment systems would cripple any supporter-funded group – that few would take the chance of having SOPA/PIPA invoked against them. The end result would be more cautious, less exciting – and less successful – campaigns in the future. Small wonder, then, that no multinationals outside the Internet industry have come out against SOPA or PIPA.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and on Google+



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