How Not To Handle A Parody Video: Threatening Legal Action
from the hello-ms.-streisand dept
A whole bunch of people have sent in variations on this story, which involves scientist Michael Mann, one of the main figures involved in the recent (misleading and totally blown out of proportion) controversy over climate change research, threatening legal action against people who made a satire video, which includes his image. Honestly, it’s hard to think of a move more likely to backfire than this. His lawyers should have done everything in their power to talk him out of making such a threat. Think about it:
- You have groups who want publicity making fun of him
- These groups also want a legal battle with him where they might be able to gather additional info from him
- They made a clearly legally protected video
Sending a legal threat here not only doesn’t work, because the legal basis is suspect, but it plays perfectly into the hands of those who made the video in the first place. No matter what you think of Mann’s work, it’s hard not to think that it’s an incredibly dumb thing to threaten legal action in this situation. The actual cease & desist letter also raises some legal threats that have little basis in the law. It threatens the group that posted the video for using Dr. Mann’s likeness, claiming that it was pulled off the Penn State website, and “is not authorized, and infringes on various copyrights.” First of all, merely making use of a publicity photo in the video is unlikely to actually infringe on anyone’s copyrights, but more to the point, it almost certainly does not infringe on Mann’s copyrights. If anyone holds a copyright on that image, it would be the photographer who took the image or (more likely) Penn State. The lawyers do cc a photographer — so perhaps they’re suggesting he holds the copyrights, but they make no claim that they represent him.
Either way, it’s hard not to see the video as protected free speech. The use of his likeness is not (as the letter claims) for commercial purposes, but to mock him. It clearly hurts his feelings, but that’s not illegal. The claims of defamation are also ridiculous. Even if you believe that Mann’s infamous comments were taken out of context, there’s a widespread discussion over what happened with the data in question, and arguing that it’s defamatory to make such a claim is a stretch.
Yet again, we see a legal cease & desist threat being used not for an actual legal reason, but because someone doesn’t like something on the internet… and the result, in true “Streisand Effect” fashion, is to call significantly more attention to the content they hoped would disappear. This video wasn’t going to convince people one way or the other in this debate. People who want to believe that climate change data was falsified were going to believe it no matter what. Those who feel otherwise aren’t going to have their mind changed by a silly video. Threatening legal action does nothing but draw more attention to the the issue.