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Chamber Of Commerce Strong-Arms Service Provider Into Shutting Down Spoof Site

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:25 PM ET

Japan Us Economy
Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce demanded that the company providing Internet service for the Yes Men shut down their site on Tuesday, claiming the spoof troupe's fake version of the Chamber's site constituted copyright infringement.

"The Website infringes the Chamber of Commerce's copyrights by directly copying the images, logos, design, and layout of the Chamber of Commerce's copyright-protected official website," said the letter from the Chamber's lawyers, who threaten "legal liability" for the service provider, Hurricane Electric.

The mockup of the Chamber's site was part of the Yes Men's epic hoax, which included a phony press conference at the National Press Club, where a fraudulent Chamber spokesman announced that the superlative lobbying organization had reversed its controversial stance on climate change.

Hurricane Electric obeyed the Chamber's letter and shut down the spoof site. But in the process, they shut down hundreds of other sites maintained by May First / People Link, the Yes Men's direct provider (Hurricane Electric is its "upstream" provider).

"I wasn't able to only shut down that one website," said Benny Ng, director of infrastructure for Hurricane Electric in an interview with the Huffington Post. "The only way I could do it was by taking down their entire connection which I don't want to do but in order for me to comply with the [Chamber's letter] that was my only option."

Ng said the sites were down for an hour or so. He said he reconnected them after May First agreed to take the site off Hurricane's network.

"We were very unhappy with Hurricane Electric's response," May First's Alfredo Lopez told the Huffington Post. May First immediately "mirrored" the Yes Men spoof page -- he stressed that it's going to stay on the web. As for Hurricane, "They did that because they don't want to spend the time or the money on a lawyer."

The Chamber of Commerce, added Lopez, is "disgusting."

In a statement, the business federation defended its effort to knock down the site:

"Consistent with our legal right to protect our intellectual property, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce requested that the Hurricane Electric, an upstream provider, take down a fake site that appeared to be, but was not, from the Chamber. The Chamber never requested removal of the web site theyesmen.org or theyesmenfixtheworld.com or any sites other than chamber-of-commerce.us. Hurricane Electric told us that it could not respond because it was an upstream provider. We took no other action with Hurricane."

Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men had strong words for the Chamber.

"This is a blow against free speech, and it demonstrates in gory detail the full hypocrisy of the Chamber," he said in a statement. "The only freedom they care about is the economic freedom of large corporations to operate free of the hassles of science, reality, and democracy."

Copyright law allows for "fair use" of copyrighted material "for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research."

"This seems to be a pretty clear fair use case," said Matt Zimmerman, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, which is representing the Yes Men. He called the Chamber's letter a "nastygram" commonly used to scare people into removing stuff from the web. "People will frequently use this provision [of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act] when they don't really have a basis for doing so."

Zimmerman sent a letter to the Chamber's lawyers demanding they withdraw their takedown notice. The letter also pointed the lawyers to the "Free Speech" page on the Chamber's site.

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