by Mike Masnick

Who Cut Off The Yes Men's Parody Website?

from the parody-is-protected-fair-use dept

A few weeks back, the media pranksters, The Yes Men, pulled off their latest prank. They got on stage at a gas and oil conference, pretending to be an ExxonMobil exec and a member of the U.S. National Petroleum Council and proceeded to pitch a new product called Exxon Vivoleum, which would be made from the remains of people who died due to global climate change. The two men were soon escorted off-stage and out of the building. No matter what your opinion is on the topic of energy companies or climate change, it was a pretty amusing prank. It got it's week or so of play in the news and on some talk shows and had started to fade away. However, now it's popping back up because someone (and no one seems to know who) has convinced the Yes Men's ISP to pull the plug on the Vivoleum parody site (via Slashdot). On top of that, the ISP is demanding that all mentions of Exxon be removed from the Yes Men's own website, or their email will be turned off. This, of course, would suggest that Exxon was behind the complaint that got the site pulled. If that's the case, then Exxon is overstepping its bounds. Parody is protected free speech (and Exxon's lawyers know this). Furthermore, simply mentioning the name of Exxon doesn't infringe on their trademark. Abusing intellectual property law to shut up critics can backfire badly. Already, this is causing the Vivoleum story to get added life after it had started to fade, and now it could open up questions about whether Exxon is abusing intellectual property law as well.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Karen in Wichita, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 3:15pm

    I'm a bit skeptical

    ...and no one seems to know who...
    ...this is causing the Vivoleum story to get added life after it had started to fade...
    Hmm. Who benefits? Call me cynical, but I'd sure hesitate to lay that one at Exxon's doorstep.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Kyros, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 3:31pm

    I can see your point, but, Exxon may still be attempting to limit the bad press. It could go either way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Eric W., Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 3:32pm

    How Are They Not Breaking Laws?

    How these guys aren't breaking laws impersonating representatives from companies is beyond me. I'm all for what their cause, but I guess my grasp of the legal system is a little naive and it still feels like what they do is wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    lar3ry, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 3:53pm

    Re: How Are They Not Breaking Laws?

    I guess you should have Dana Carvey thrown in jail for impersonating Bush 41 (he was a president!), and... let's see... Will Ferrell impersonated GWB on Saturday Night Live, so let's throw him in the slammer as well. Rich Little has been doing it for years... let's give him the electric chair!

    Parody and impersonation is legitimate and protected speech. The Supreme Court of the US allowed that as well with the "Pretty Woman" decision.

    That still won't make companies that find themselves a laughingstock avoid trying to stifle the speech that makes them look like fools. The lawyers do know better, but are being paid to "do something." The ISPs see a threatening letter from a lawyer and immediately do a song and dance. Sure, they're screwing their own customers, but they've got plenty of customers, so what's one pissed off customer? That's why ISPs turn over IP logs to the RIAA without even the benefit of a subpoena. It's easier to screw your customers than to take the time to tell the lawyers that they don't have a legal foot to stand on.

    I guess that in the USA, screwing your customers doesn't hurt business. The RIAA have proved that many times over.

    All that being said...

    There's no "protected speech" on the Internet. The U.S. constitution is pretty vague on the concept of "online speech" and even the first amendment only applies its' free speech to guarantees that "Congress shall enact no law abridging" it.

    An ISP can shut down a web site for any reason, whether it be the fact that it upsets a large corporation or that they use "too much purple" in their graphics. It's a contractual matter between the ISP and the customer, and the T.O.S. that the customer agreed to is almost always written to the benefit of the ISP. Excercise your "free speech" rights, and start looking for a new ISP.

    The concept of a "free press" only applies to those that can afford the price of owning a press... find your own T-3 connection, a couple of peers that will route packets to you, and other logistical support, and then exercise your "free speech" rights.

    Anything else on the Internet is there by the "good graces" of the people hosting the content... the ISPs or corporations that own the virtual real estate. It's capitalism at its most basic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Phlatus the Elder, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 4:12pm

    Re: How Are They Not Breaking Laws?

    It's clearly parody and they aren't making money off of it (at least not directly). If they use the assumed personae for personal material gain, it's probably a fraud. If, on the other hand, it is done as political or social criticism (and this clearly is), it is absolutely protected speech. (That's not to say the pranksters can't write a best selling book about it and get rich...)

    Just an opinionated bastard - not a lawyer, your mileage may vary, consult your physician or pharmacist before changing dosage, stir well and refrigerate after opening, wear eye protection at all times, for prevention of disease only......

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Karen in Wichita, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 4:30pm


    Could be. I'm sure not gonna say companies have never done anything that stupid. But if I was a journalist, I'd hesitate to go to press with the story until I knew I wasn't being played.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    g, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 5:01pm

    Re: How Are They Not Breaking Laws?

    You break laws when youre doing it and breaking other laws, like fraud.

    Pretending to be something is not illegal. Pretending to be a cop in the context of something real is illegal (but you can dress up in a cop costume all you want for fun).

    Pretending to be a lawyer and taking legal cases would be illegal, or a doctor practicing medicine.

    Getting up on a stage and saying a bunch of crap is not "impersonating" in this sense. It's potentially slander and definitely trespassing, but the slander is covered by 1st amendment parody and trespassing is normally a misdemeanor and Im sure they dont care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 6:10pm

    The oil companies are greedy, stupid, corporations that will kill everyone on the planet in their lust for profits.

    All you have to do to know that for a fact is realize that we have had the technology for working, practical, fully electric vehicles since the late 90's.

    We could have completely eliminated our dependance on foreigh oil by now, forget paying $4.00 / gallon.

    Don't believe me ? Rent the DVD.....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Michael McCracken, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 6:46pm

    Damn Funny

    Soylent Vivoleum is PEOPLE! I cannot believe how many people leaving comments are not absolutely on the floor laughing about this. This is freaking hilarious! And debating over the legality? Is there someone in the world that really cares if a law was broken here or not? And the number one comment is insinuating that it is not Exxon that is trying to get all mention of there name removed and that it could actually be the Yes Men. Wow what a stretch of a lack of imagination that is! And no Cynical would not be the word that comes to mind, how about Stupid!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    chris, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 8:27pm


    I didn't know about this. Thanks for letting me know, now I can look this up on youtube :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Mark Francis, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 8:35pm

    Political speech should be protected

    ...but in Canada, where this latest stunt took place, it is not.

    So for all of you above talking about first amendment rights, first realize that the event happened in Canada, where there is no First Amendment. We have a promise of 'free expression' but our common law still looks back 300 years and elevates right to reputation to dizzying heights. As a result, you can tell the truth and still be found guilty of libel. You can express an opinion based on fact, but still be found guilty of libel. Libel as a crime is actually still on the books in Canada and is still used!

    There are no exceptions for political speech or satire or parody. You have no more right in Canada to publicly criticize the Prime Minister than you have to speculate on the inner-most personal secrets of your most un-public next door neighbor.

    In Canada, libel law specifically calls for reverse onus to be applied, that is, you are guilty until proven innocent. Smart people and corporations looking to shut someone down forum shop to places like British Columbia and file libel lawsuits there. This means that even if you publish in the US, talking about an American personage, if that person can argue to have an interest in BC, they can sue you there and use the very low standard of libel.

    In other words, it is possible to do a complete end run around your first amendment rights.

    For a recent, real example, see this post on P2pNet:

    An entire blog on blogspot has been removed over an ongoing lawsuit concerning one post and some comments. What's really funny is that the blogger used the 'soylent green' phrae too!

    The Yes Men *may* have fallen victim to forum shopping, given that their stunt was done in Alberta, which has similar libel laws to BC's.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Michael Vilain, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 9:49pm

    Re: Re: How Are They Not Breaking Laws?

    Well, the ISP can be sued to remove their common carrier status under the safe harbor clause of the DMCA. That would require they monitor _all_ their traffic for DMCA violations and probably make the close their doors as it's to much to process.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    kb, Jul 2nd, 2007 @ 11:26pm

    Exxon vs Vivoleum

    Great joke and the guts to carry it out at a conference! Considering that the past couple of years has seen the greatest profits from oil companies ever and we, the consumers, do not get any benefits, as is reduced gas prices, tells me that something will break somewhere, and soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    kezia, Jul 3rd, 2007 @ 12:15pm


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.