Satire Site Gets Ridiculous Threat Letter From Baseball Team; cc's Barbra Streisand In Its Response

from the that's-how-you-do-it dept

The Popehat signal went up and it was for a good cause (even if it's ridiculous that it was needed). The satirical site "Takoma Torch," which is an attempt at being a sort of local The Onion for a suburb outside of DC, posted an article making light of the nearby town of Olney, Maryland and its new Cal Ripken Collegiate League baseball team. Playing off of the recent drama regarding the company OnlyFans, Takoma Torch's Eric Saul wrote up an amusing article about "OlneyFans." You can click through to read the story, but the opening gives you the gist:

Within hours of going live, “OlneyFans,” the website for Upper Montgomery County’s new Cal Ripken Collegiate League baseball team, crashed this week due to unusually high web traffic.

“We knew that starting a new baseball team in Olney would be popular, especially with males between the ages of 13 and 55,” said marketing director Brock Jacobs. “But when our site registration exceeded the entire population of Maryland after announcing a free footlong on opening day against Bethesda Big Train, we realized our huge oversight.”

There are a few more such paragraphs and it's somewhat amusing. Except, apparently, to the very, very foolish people who run the Olney Community Baseball Team who found someone who is apparently a real lawyer, Andrew Schwartz, to write one of the dumbest threat letters we've seen in a while. Schwartz, who specializes in business law, employment law, and real estate law seems to know fuck all about how free speech works.

The letter has some real whoppers in there.

Olney Baseball has learned that The Takoma Torch has circulated communications that use the name, image, or likeness of Olney Baseball in a false, misleading, and/or defamatory manner. For instance, on September 8, 2021, The Takoma Torch published an article entitled "OlneyFans Website for MoCo's New Baseball Team Crashes Due to Unusually High Traffic" (the "Article"). No one from or on behalf of Olney Baseball was contacted, interviewed, or consulted about the Article. The Article contains numerous false and misleading statements, and it misrepresents the Olney Baseball organization. For instance, and not by way of limitation, Olney Baseball: (i) does not have a website; (ii) the individuals purportedly quoted in the Article have no relationship with Olney Baseball and they are not in any way affiliated with Olney Baseball; (iii) the individuals quoted in the Article have no authority to comment or speak on behalf of Olney Baseball; and (iv) the Article references a purported logo for Olney Baseball; however, Olney Baseball does not have any logo at this time.

Talk about missing the joke. The letter goes on to talk about all the time and money they've wasted investigating this matter and demanding The Takoma Torch cease and desist "all activities, including, but not limited to, publication, dissemination, distribution, sharing, posting and all use of or reference to the Olney Baseball name, image, and likeness in connection with any article, post, communication, and/or comment in whatever medium and in any forum." They also demand the article be taken down and all the usual legal mumbo jumbo designed to scare people.

Thankfully, the Takoma Torch and Eric Saul seem to know enough not to be intimidated, and made public their response. It's too good.

Thank you for your recent submission of a satirical legal threat. Even though our writing team found it to be extremely hilarious, unfortunately, it did not technically meet our qualifications of containing fewer than 300 words and have a punchy headline, so we will not accept it at this time. Perhaps you could have used "Olney Makes History with First Baseball Team to Lack a Sense of Humor," or even "Lawyers Has Ball to Make Baseless Claims Against Satirical Baseball Story." Either one of these headlines would have been acceptable.

There's more, but the best part, by far, is the signoff.

Why, yes, that is a "cc: Barbara Streisand" which caused half the internet to alert me to it (Psst: Eric, for future reference, her name is now actually Barbra without the extra "a").

And, given how often I've seen this type story come up, it appears that the Streisand Effect is alive and well. Saul has said his traffic went up more than 10x, to the point that his hosting company even alerted him that his traffic was "booming."

Of course, some of the backstory behind all of this makes it even crazier. According to the Washingtonian, Eric Saul of the Takoma Torch knows the owner of the baseball team and had even done him favors in the past:

Saul said he was bewildered by the letter. For starters, he says, “The guy suing me is my friend!” Indeed, Jeff Schwaber, the managing partner at Stein Sperling, confirms that Saul and Tony Korson, the CEO of Koa Sports, an organization behind the team, have coached baseball together and that Saul designed the interior of Koa Sports’ facility for free. Korson called Saul about the article on Friday, Saul says, and he agreed to remove the original graphic for the story, which showed an artist’s rendering of the team’s potential field, and replace it with an aerial photo. “I thought that was the end of it,” he says.

Some thanks he gets for designing the interior of their facility for free!

Incredibly, rather than backing down, the lawyers at Stein Sperling seem to be doubling down. Again from the Washingtonian:

Schwaber says the problem, from his client’s point of view, is that the baseball team is a new organization whose name is being “deliberately confused” with a site known for adult content. But Takoma Torch is clearly a humor publication, I said. Doesn’t the precedent in the Supreme Court case Hustler Magazine, Inc., v. Falwell—which found that the First Amendment protected even offensive speech as long as “that speech could not reasonably have been interpreted as stating actual facts”—protect this sort of joke?

“Look, there is a lot of humor that’s protected speech,” Schwaber replied. “But there are also lines that get crossed.” For instance, he says, Washingtonian could not write an article that accused Schwaber of molesting children and be protected by labeling it satire.

Um. That's just dumb, Jeff. That's not how any of this works. This did not cross the line and it was clearly satire. Schwaber kept on going and said even more stupid stuff to the Washington Post:

“Of course we support the First Amendment and the right of the Takoma Torch or anyone else to use satire as a medium,” wrote Stein Sperling’s Jeffrey M. Schwaber in an email.

No you don't, Jeff. You sent him a fucking cease-and-desist that threatens litigation for his satire. So you do not support the 1st Amendment.

“Our concern is that our client has worked very hard to create an opportunity to bring a community oriented, children and family friendly baseball team to Olney, and now is faced with the challenges posed by having their new brand deliberately confused with an exploitative site filled with graphic and explicit content.”

No one is confusing anything, dude. Except you. Everyone got the humor. Except you. Either way, the Streisand Effect has claimed another victim.

Update: And... not surprisingly, it appears that the lawyers and the Olney baseball team realized that at some point you stop digging, and have agreed not to pursue legal action here:

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Filed Under: andrew schwartz, barbra streisand, eric saul, free speech, jeff schwaber, satire, streisand effect, threats
Companies: olney community baseball, onlyfans, takoma torch


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 10:43am

    Re: Hustler v. Falwell

    Interesting that Hustler v. Falwell is mentioned, because the dramatization of that case and the lead-up to it in The People vs. Larry Flynt galvanized me into a civil libertarian and a card-carrying member of the ACLU.

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

  • icon
    wshuff (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 11:18am

    "Dear Jeff;

    I just wanted to let you know that some asshole is writing stupid letters using your letterhead.

    Signed,

    Eric

    cc: Barbra Streisand"

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

  • icon
    Bill Silverstein (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 12:03pm

    Did they understand?

    I am not even sure that they would know about the Streisand effect.

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

  • identicon
    Whoever, 15 Sep 2021 @ 12:04pm

    The MOST stupid C&D letter

    The original article doesn't even mention the actual baseball team.

    The logo in the original article reminds me of something .....

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 12:14pm

    I read the entire response while humming that "uuuu uuuu uuuu u Barbra Streisand" song. Try it! It's added hilarity!

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 12:28pm

    "“Of course we support the First Amendment and the right of the Takoma Torch or anyone else to use satire as a medium,”"

    Did he not read his own threat letter?

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

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 2:24pm

      That's not a contradiction for some people. They read the First Amendment as "free speech I don't disagree with", "freedom of my religion" and "right to assemble with people who look like me".

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

  • icon
    Rico R. (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 1:18pm

    Yet another incorrect movie quote:

    Are you issuing baseless legal threats? There's no issuing baseless legal threats in baseball!

    — A League of Their Own

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

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 2:43pm

    Well that was quick.

    1) I am happy to confirm that the OlneyFans drama has been resolved entirely in the Torch’s favor! Thanks to everyone for your support, but a few extra special thanks are in order...

    2) Legal powerhouse @popehat took up our cause and found numerous fantastic attorneys who offered to represent us for free. The GOAT @gross_jennie signed on to be our official pro bono counsel and did a kick ass job...

    3)...And finally, the First Amendment did what it was always meant to do: protect the right of a smart ass with a satire website to make all of the baseball/pornography jokes he wants.

    4) As promised, all of the money raised through the OlneyFans t-shirt sales - $500 and counting - is being donated to the Olney Boys and Girls Club. Now go watch some live baseball in your community! https://takoma-torch.creator-spring.com/listing/olneyfans?product=369

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Sep 2021 @ 3:12pm

      Re:

      Sometimes I wonder if someone did the math and decided "I can spend $300 and get a lawyer to write a really dumb letter, or I can spend $30,000 on advertising."

      Streisand Effect can work two ways -- and in this case, it's resulting in actual monetary gain for the ball club, as well as increased readership for the satirist -- who admitted that he's friends with one of the organizers of the ball club.

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 15 Sep 2021 @ 5:28pm

        Re: Re:

        If the goal was to help the baseball team I'd chalk that up to a hefty faceplant as they came out of this looking bad and people who might not have even heard of them before had this as their first experience with the team.

        You only get one first impression and this one did not help them out.

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

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 15 Sep 2021 @ 2:54pm

    I can't wait

    until the borders open up again and I can attend one of their games. I just hope the weather holds out and doesn't Rain on their Parade. If so we'll probably say, Dammit. Here's That Rainy Day. You'll Never Know, but maybe I can attend On a Clear Day When the Sun Comes Out.
    Please, Luck Be a Lady.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Lostinlodos (profile), 16 Sep 2021 @ 3:53pm

    Wth 🤦‍♂️

    Well, the article isn’t funny. It’s just stupid sophomore humour
    The legal threat is a joke though.

    And the response, mildly interesting

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

  • identicon
    Zonker, 16 Sep 2021 @ 4:24pm

    I can see now why OlneyFans would want to stop hosting sexual content on their site.

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


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