Greenpeace Parody Site Censored Using Copyright Infringement Claim

from the freedom-of-speech,-what's-that? dept

One of the the reasons why legislation like SOPA and treaties like ACTA are so dangerous is that their loose definitions allow measures intended to deal with copyright infringement to be used to censor inconvenient opinions. Unfortunately, that's not just a theoretical problem with future legislation, but one that is already happening, as this post from Rick Falkvinge makes clear:

Greenpeace protests an oil company with a parody site. The oil company files a lawsuit against the ISP of Greenpeace, claiming copyright monopoly violation of the company’s look and feel. The ISP shuts down the Greenpeace protest site immediately, complying with the threat from the oil company, without fighting the lawsuit or waiting for the court. Yup: the abuse-friendly copyright monopoly is now abused by oil companies to suppress Greenpeace, too.
You can compare the original Web site, from a company called Neste Oil, with a (modified) screenshot of Greenpeace's version. The original parody site was located at nestespoil.com, a play on the nesteoil.com domain name. The company's not happy about that either:
Nestespoil.com parodies the Annual report 2011 of Neste Oil and criticizes the company’s biodiesel business that aggravates forest destruction. Neste Oil has made a complaint to WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) in which it tries to get Greenpeace’s Nestespoil.com domain for itself.
But it's the claim of copyright infringement that's more interesting. That's because the legal action against Greenpeace's ISP, Loopia, tries to address the issue of parody. The document (original pdf in Swedish) says that Greenpeace was seeking to stir up a "political debate", and claims that such "political propaganda" loses the protection of parody, and is therefore infringing on Neste Oil's copyright.

IANAL, and certainly not a Swedish lawyer, so I've no idea if that's true, although it would be disturbing it if were, since parody is an important part of political discourse. In any case, it's troubling that copyright is being used in this way to shut down legitimate debate about important issues like energy policy and deforestation.

And there's another concern, which is highlighted in an interesting offer by the Swedish ISP Binero to host Greenpeace's parody site:

As a Swedish web host shut down the Greenpeace parody site Nestespoil.com after a law suit from Neste Oil, competitor Binero invited Greenpeace in, with the new site Nestespoilreturns.com. Binero considers the EU E-commerce directive 2000/31/EG and the consequent local laws to be absurd and that all sites must be allowed to have their legality tried by authorities. Current laws put web hosts, ISPs and other middle men at risk of being sued for damages unless they immediately shut down sites in unclear cases. Large corporations can stop sites simply by threatening middle men and we believe this is a threat to free speech.
That's a hugely important point at a time when supporters of copyright maximalism are belittling people's concern that proposals like SOPA and ACTA will lead to censorship. That's not because of any claimed "right" to make unauthorized copies, but because those laws will be abused to shut down commentary sites in the same way that Greenpeace's was muzzled.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jun 2012 @ 2:01pm

    I'm not a lawyer either, but I am a Swede and I know how to find legal information.

    The Supreme Court case they refer to for their assertion that "political propaganda" does not fall under the protection of parody, NJA 1975 s. 679, is about moral rights. It's too old to be digitized, but it's been referred to in newer cases which are available. NJA 2008 s. 309 says that NJA 1975 s. 679 was about a grammophone record containing a song with music and the first line of text copied from another song, but with the rest of the text changed to a protest against the Vietnam war. This was deemed to be a breach of the original songwriter's moral rights.

    Since this is based on a third-hand summary, it would be interesting if some other Swede could find the original report. Any good library should have copies of NJA (Nytt Juridiskt Arkiv).

    Moral rights are tricky in general. That newer case (NJA 2008 s. 309) is quite famous: it's about two filmmakers suing a TV station for having commercial breaks when showing their movies. The filmmakers won.

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