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.

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Comments on “How Not To Handle A Parody Video: Threatening Legal Action”

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Mr. Oizo says:

Re: Environmentally Unsound

Well, not entirely sure about that. In England, the IFR (Institute of Food Research) has a contract that specifies that you will not give your opinion in public because the money comes from charity and should not be linked to politics. In this case it effectively censor any research being done since you cannot talk about it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sorry Fish, but you’re dead wrong here.

He’s not suing because the National Post disagreed with him. He’s suing because they improperly skewed his statements, painted him as a conspiracy theorist (including false claims that he believes the oil industry broke into his office), and did everything except outright stating that he was a sham of a researcher who was just paying lip-service for a paycheck.

Arstechnica did a terrible write-up of the lawsuit, spending about 10% of the time actually talking about the case, and the rest on a general rant about climate change.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The article claimed that he:

a) Cherry picked data to support his research

b) Blamed the “evil fossil fuel industry” for break-ins at his office

There was also some statement regarding the IPCC, which was also supposedly made up.

Everything else is general ranting about how the media skews its articles, but those two points are certainly libelous if they are indeed false.

Now, it’s obvious which side of the whole debate you’re on. However, I should hope that you’re not using that as a justification for a newspaper making up statements.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I don’t think any of that is libelous. You might think so, but I do not. Hence, you say tomato, I say tomahto…

But if you really want to get people who do not believe we’re causing climate change riled up, sue them for disagreeing with you.

Suing them will do infinitely more harm against the fight to stop climate change than the statements made by his detractors ever did.

RD says:

Well, and...

“This is the exact sort of BS that fuels people who do not believe in human caused climate change.”

Well, that and the fact that the human contribution to “Climate change” is a fraction of a percent compared to, oh, every other geological and celestial (sun) forces that exerts a much more significant effect on our climate.

But what do I know, I’m only human.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Well, and...

That’s why I called it “human caused climate change.” The climate is and has been constantly changing and it is ridiculous to assume that it should suddenly be static.

People always talk about climate change as if it’s a bad thing. But climate change has been occurring well before we showed up on this planet. It’s only a problem if we’re causing it. If we’re not causing it, there’s not much we could do about it anyway.

A Dan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Well, and...

If it will negatively affect us, it’s a problem and should be dealt with. It doesn’t matter whether it’s caused by us or nature. What does matter is how we combat it if it’s harmful. If a climate change were bad enough to extinct us I hope we would fight to save ourselves, regardless of the cause.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well, and...

If it will negatively affect us, it’s a problem and should be dealt with.

Let’s assume that despite all the pollution we’re dumping into our atmosphere, we are not causing the current climate change.

If despite all of that dumping we’re not having any impact, what makes you think we could affect any climate change even if we wanted to?

Big Mook (profile) says:

Re: Well, and...

The recent eruption in Iceland blew more GHG’s into the atmosphere in 1 week than the total output of all cars in North America in a year, but I don’t hear anyone getting their knickers in a twist about it, because there is no way to gain money or power from natural phenomena such as a volcano. It just does what it does as thousands of them do every single day on this planet.

Michael Mann’s career is finished for all intents and purposes, and he’s pissed. Now if only he could figure out where he left that darn data…

One more thing: This is precisely where science is broken, in that any scientist who will not toe the line and agree with the “consensus” is blackballed and ridiculed. The “consensus” scientists will do everything possible to deny access to those who don’t agree. Most of them are so afraid of this practice that they don’t dare speak the truth or adhere to the scientific method 100%. It’s much easier to stay quiet and keep collecting the grant money.

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well, and...

“The recent eruption in Iceland blew more GHG’s into the atmosphere in 1 week than the total output of all cars in North America in a year”

And the funny part is; it’s insignificant when compared to the last time it went off.

All cars in North America? Quite selective there. You are apparently ignorant of the fact that transportation (which includes cars, planes, trains, and boats) only accounts for 14% of the human produced CO2 emissions.

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Well, and...

Well, that and the fact that the human contribution to “Climate change” is a fraction of a percent compared to, oh, every other geological and celestial (sun) forces that exerts a much more significant effect on our climate.

Wow, that is probably one of the most fallacious comments you could have possibly made. Carbon Dioxide levels have risen from 310ppm to 380ppm over the past 40 years. While increases of this amount have been seen through natural processes, natural processes would take hundreds (if not thousands) of years to create this type of increase.

RD says:

Re: Re: Well, and...

“Wow, that is probably one of the most fallacious comments you could have possibly made. Carbon Dioxide levels have risen from 310ppm to 380ppm over the past 40 years. While increases of this amount have been seen through natural processes, natural processes would take hundreds (if not thousands) of years to create this type of increase.

Great! It (CO2)increased 20% in 4 decades. Of course, you neglect to also state a very big part of this argument, and that is that CO2 is a VERY SMALL part of “Greenhouse gasses” that contribute to climate change. On the order of a few percent compared to, say, water vapor.

* water vapor, which contributes 36–72%
* carbon dioxide, which contributes 9–26%
* methane, which contributes 4–9%
* ozone, which contributes 3–7%

So, Co2, even though it has increased 20% in half a century, is only less than 1/4 to 1/10th of the TOTAL. Is it a problem? Perhaps. Are you ignoring other factors, such as the ability of the ocean and other earth systems to “scrub” the CO2, or other contributing factors such as Solar (#1 cause of ALL climate change, and if you dont believe it, you have no arguments worth making) and things like the aformentioned Iceland Volcano? Yes, yes you are.

CO2 is only one relatively small PART (PART!) of all that affects climate change. That you focus solely on it tells a lot about where you stand and how you view the subject (which is to say, the alarmist “man is killing the planet!” view).

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Well, and...

CO2 may be only one of a number of things that affect greenhouse warming, but levels of it have dramatically increased over the past 40 years, and effects from the increase in CO2 can be directly shown to cause increase in global average temperatures. This increase in CO2 levels can also be directly traced to human activity.

Methane levels have also been shown to be increasing, though not as dramatically as CO2. This also creates a feedback loop, as thawing permafrost releases additional methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas.

When you say that CO2 is “a very small part of greenhouse gasses” (misspelling of “gases” retained) you completely ignore the fact that this “small part” can still be directly shown to have a significant affect on global average temperatures.

If the Ocean and other systems were capable of “scrubbing” the additional CO2 that humans have been spewing into the atmosphere, then levels of CO2 would remain flat, rather than increasing dramatically.

I would never make the claim that “man is killing the planet”. The planet will be around long after humans are gone. But I do support the idea that man has made and is still making quite an impact, and the results of our impact are hard if not impossible to predict.

Your view of the subject clearly shows how you view the subject (which is to say “we are having no effect, we should keep doing everything as we have been doing it and make no changes to attempt to reduce our impact”).

DocMenach (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Well, and...

$79 billion sure sounds like a big number. Though if you smart you would have realized that $79 billion is 1/6th of the US Military budget in ONE YEAR. So, the US has taken 20 years to spend 1/6th of the amount on reducing impact as we spend on military in one year.

As for you assertion that it is a made up problem, just keep sticking your head in the sand.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Well, and...

This entire debate would be settled rather quickly if all debaters were required to produce their credentials prior to talking or writing on the subject. I trust an armchair climatologist crying “conspiracy” even less than I trust a Bircher screaming “communist”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Well, and...

I didn’t say that everyone commenting on internet blogs must qualify to speak. I surely don’t want to. They’re blogs. They don’t settle national discourse.

I was suggesting that serious debate on the subject would quickly end should the requirement exist (being that the only people denying climate science are people who know absolutely nothing about it or are currently in the employ of a coal company).

I can cook a mean fish, but I wouldn’t trust myself to serve puffer fish, that would take more than what wikipedia provides me. I am also not a climate scientist, and I’m willing to bet that nobody else here is either.

cconsaul (profile) says:

The Guthrie Estate Tried This With Jib Jab

Jib Jab posted clever little flash animation on You Tube, using a parody of “This Land Is Your Land” by Woodrow Wilson Guthrie. Now Woodie would probably have laughed himself silly over the thing, but his estate decided to sue instead. The outcome was rather unsatisfying though, since Jib Jab found a published version of the song that was written early enough in Mr. Guthrie’s career that it literally took the song out of copyright altogether! This is good for Jib Jab since it meant that the Guthrie estate didn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s even better for educators since we now have carte blanche to use the song for educational purposes without being harrased by the RIAA, the Musician’s Union, or apparently now by the AFL-CIO (Ouch, that one hurts, my dad belonged to that Union and it is the Union that I currently belong to as a certified teacher!)

So there is another danger here. Not only does all of this spurious litigation dilute the so called protections of copyright (protect the distributors and retailers and the heck with the poor schmuck who wrote it!) the litigants might actually find out that their precious creative work is no longer under copyright at all. You might even say that Jib Jab proved once and for all time that “This song was made for you and me!”

Was a great high wall there
That tried to stop my
A great big sign said
“Private Property”
But on the other side
It didn’t say nuthin’
Except, This land is made for you and me!

Woodie Guthrie

They never put this verse in the text books. I wonder why?”

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