Bus Company Threatens To Sue College Newspaper Over Satirical Story

from the because-nothing-matters dept

What is it with college bus companies? For years we've covered the insanity of Suburban Express and its attacks on customers for criticizing the company, and now we have a story that impacts my own alma mater. Coach USA is a large bus holding company that runs a bunch of different bus companies, including ShortLine, which runs regular coach bus service between downstate New York and upstate New York, making it a popular option for students from the New York City metropolitan region going to college at Binghamton, Ithaca, Cornell, Albany or Elmira. It's been around for quite some time -- and like many college bus transportation services, the subject of jokes.

CU Nooz, a satirical news site that I'm pretty sure began its existence long after I left town, recently had a satirical article (which is basically all the site does) mocking the Shortline Bus. And Coach USA responded by sending an utterly ridiculous cease & desist letter.

The letter, obtained by The Sun and sent by Coach USA’s assistant general counsel, called the piece “libelous” and threatened legal action if not pulled off of CU Nooz’s website. The article, originally entitled “Student Spent Entirety of Fall Break on Shortline Bus” spoofed the travel experience of a fictional student on a nonexistent ShortLine route, saying that long bus journeys prevented her from spending time at home.

CU Nooz has responded by updating the article in question, so that its new title is:

UPDATE: Student Didn’t Spend Entirety of Fall Break on Shortline Bus, Because Shortline Sent Us Cease and Desist

Good job. It now includes an editor's note up top:

Update: In response to receiving a cease and desist letter from Coach USA’s assistant general counsel demanding CU Nooz remove the “libelous article concerning Shortline’s bus services as well as libelous comments attributed to representatives of Shortline”, this article has been updated to reflect that the student did not, in fact, spend the entirety of Fall Break on the Shortline Bus.

It also put in a bunch of strikethroughs and "edits" within the story, which is pretty funny in its own way:

>In what was supposed to be a quick long-weekend visit to friends and family back home, Kayla Gladstone ‘22 spentDID NOT SPEND the entire duration of Fall Break on a Shortline service from Ithaca to Washington DC.

“As an experienced Shortline rider, I thought this would just be a quick 17-hour jouney home,” said Gladstone DIDN’T SAY. “At least the charging port worked sometimes if I didn’t breathe too hard, and a few times when I was lucky the WiFi would even load the login page.”

Perhaps my favorite edit, is they stuck a "NONEXISTENT" before the word "route" to emphasize that the route in question didn't even exist.

The original cease and desist was clearly ridiculous and censorial. Coach/ShortLine appears to have wasted money on lawyers who either gave them bad advice or still followed through on the bus company's ridiculous demand to silence someone gently mocking them.

Even worse, according to the Cornell Daily Sun, Shortline's execs acknowledge they understood it was satire, which basically is them admitting that they had absolutely no legal claim here in the first place. They can't even plead that they had no sense of humor. Just that they're assholes.

“Shortline understands that the article was satirical, but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news,” Hughes said.

That assumes that anyone doing a search would be too stupid to recognize satire. Either way, it's long been established that parody/satire is not defamatory, and the company itself has now admitted its satire.

Incredibly, the only defense that Shortline gives in response to this was a manager there saying that the article "wasn't funny to us." Yeah, that's not the standard for defamation, either.

While CU Nooz clearly did not need to change its article, it did so in a pretty hilarious way that drew more attention to the bullshit legal threat. Oh, and also, it looks like the site isn't planning to let up either. It's now published a new story called 8 Bus Companies We'd Rather be Sued by Than ShortLine.

Filed Under: 1st amendment, bullying, cunooz, jokes, satire, threats
Companies: coach usa, cunooz, shortline


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 1:45pm

    Satirical title is satirical?

    "Sue" maybe?

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 2:58pm

      Re: Satirical title is satirical?

      Oops. Yes. Fixed.

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

      • identicon
        Bobvious, 29 Oct 2019 @ 4:23am

        Re: Re: Satirical title is satirical?

        It's only because of blue's fake Mike Masnick post down further (which isn't fooling anyone), but I never thought that your posts would have the flag option.

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

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 8:54am

          Re: Re: Re: Satirical title is satirical?

          BLUE FORCED MASNICK TO SIGN UP FOR AN ACCOUNT

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

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 1:29pm

          Re: Re: Re: Satirical title is satirical?

          ... um, why wouldn't they?

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

          • identicon
            Bobvious, 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:45pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Satirical title is satirical?

            Do you mean why wouldn't Mike's posts have the option to be flagged as abusive/trolling/spam?

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

            • icon
              That One Guy (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 7:30pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Satirical title is satirical?

              Yeah. He comments just like anyone else here, and nothing in his character that I've seen would suggest that he would give himself special 'privileges' like making it so that his comment couldn't be treated just like anyone else's.

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

              • identicon
                Bobvious, 30 Oct 2019 @ 5:59am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Satirical title is satirical?

                Hmmmm. Don't give blue ideas. Although he does seem to regularly demonstrate a low coefficient of synaptic friction, so I can see him impotently jamming that flag button.

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

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 3:36pm

    Thanks, Mike!

    This story means a lot to me as a resident of NYC. Now I know to choose a different means of transportation to go upstate if I’m ever in the mood for some steamed hams.

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

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 3:43pm

    Their next story should be about how Barbra Streisand doesn't like ShortLine's bus service, either.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2019 @ 3:46pm

    oddly, i don't recall ever hearing of Coach USA until yesterday when i saw one of their tins-on-wheels on the highway. (also have never seen a bus built like a cheap toy before). i imagined they were probably one of those sorts of services, and a thought of Suburban Express even passed through my mind.

    i guess i had a precognitive reaction to a sign. might have to get my own 1-800 line.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2019 @ 5:42pm

    Does anyone know if an adequate anti-slapp law applies in this circumstance?

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 6:41pm

    'Really though, we can see why people might be confused.'

    “Shortline understands that the article was satirical, but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news,” Hughes said.

    First of all, nice to see yet another case of 'fake news = something I don't like', second of all to say that people might think it was real, how abysmal is their reputation that they think people would take gems like this as real and serious?

    'Besides the NONEXISTENT route’s scheduled stops in Allentown and Philadelphia and scheduled breakdowns in Scranton and Wilmington, after a minor misunderstanding the driver reportedly tookDID NOT TAKE a 1,340 mile detour to Toledo, Ohio, aN UNcommon mixup for many shortline routes. When asked for comment about the delays, aNO Shortline representative replied: ”Fuck you, we’re Shortline. That’s why.”'

    Not only are they apparently utterly lacking in humor but I guess they also think that anyone who might be a prospective customer would have to be incredibly stupid and/or gullible to be interested in using their service, which is... not the best PR to say the least.

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

    • icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 7:19pm

      Re: 'Really though, we can see why people might be confused.'

      First of all, nice to see yet another case of 'fake news = something I don't like'

      Reading your quote, though, it's possible they mean "fake news" as in satirical news à la SNL's Weekend Update and The Daily Show, not "fake news" as in the way Trumpy uses it. Let's see the quote:

      “Shortline understands that the article was satirical, but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news,” Hughes said.

      I usually don't like being a lawyer for El Diablo, but it's possible that that was the definition of "fake news" given the context in your quote.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Oct 2019 @ 7:45pm

        Re: Re: 'Really though, we can see why people might be confused.

        I used to be a huge Daily Show fan and they legitimately did a lot of comical real news in between the fake news segments.

        I got too occupied/distracted with other things to keep watching the show just before Jon Stewart retired but I saw nearly every Jon Stewart Daily Show before then.

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

    • identicon
      Bobvious, 29 Oct 2019 @ 4:17am

      Re: 'Really though, we can see why people might be confused.'

      So they DIDN'T have to keep driving at a minimum 50 MPH then?

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 28 Oct 2019 @ 10:15pm

    "but if anyone unknowingly was doing a search on ShortLine services and this article came up they would not see that it was fake news"

    Wacky idea... take the money you paid the stupid lawyers & use it to improve your company a bit. Then there won't be any horror stories online that people will stumble over.

    Better idea... if your execs fear a bad review this badly, perhaps you need to starting auditing the books.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:49am

      Re:

      Wacky idea you say? As the resident card carrying holder of the wacky idea factory, you owe me €30,000 in fees, payable immediately to the Chinese government.

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

  • icon
    ArkieGuy (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 7:24am

    Wasn't funny to us...

    I read "wasn't funny to us" as "hit too close to home".

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

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 10:11am

    Disbar the lawyers

    I've said this many times in many stories like this, but I think it's time to disbar or sanction the lawyers who bring cases like this.
    If the executives of the company knew it was satire, then the lawyers should have know they wouldn't get very far in a lawsuit. And they should have known that threatening to sue a satirical site would lead to more negative coverage.

    So why in the world did a lawyer send a cease and desist order? To get more billable hours? Then that means he's putting his own income above the best interests of his client and above the ethical practice of the law.

    So... what's the name of the law firm? Is it time to name and shame them?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 10:10pm

    "the company itself has now admitted its satire"

    Mike, you're telling us that the bus company claimed to have created some satire? I've seen no evidence of this.

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

  • icon
    JdL (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 2:49am

    Excellent

    Perfect original satire, perfect response to Shortline's idiotic letter. When someone rises to the bait, it's time to hit them even harder. We can only hope that Shortline ups the ante one more time.

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


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