back to article Hoaxed US Chamber thumps pranksters with blunt instrument

With this week's lesson in the vagaries of copyright law, we seek to answer the following question: If someone uses your copyrighted material to build a website that fools a Reuters reporter into thinking you've suddenly changed your mind, are you legally empowered to destroy their clever online hoax with a DMCA takedown notice …


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  1. jake Silver badge

    From my perspective ...

    The US Chamber are a bunch of stuffed shirts who can't handle the fact that people are pointing their fingers & laughing at them ... If you can't laugh at your own preconceptions in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, do the rest of the planet a favo(u)r and step off a bridge, mid-span. Please ... it'll save the sane amongst us a boat-load of money over the long haul.

  2. Kevin 11
    Gates Horns

    Funny, but are these jokes fraud?

    I personally think these pranks are hilarious, the one that duped Rush, and this one that duped Reuters are awesome, and the scramble afterwards is the funniest. But, it seems that it's pretty close to fraud. They are representing themselves as someone else without permission. Sure it is in jest, but there is legal language surrounding the idea that something would be believed by a "reasonable person". This is directed to slander and libel suits (see The People vs Larry Flint for more details) specifically, but I can see that it would go further. Apparently these have been believed by reasonable people (politics aside, Reuters, Rush, and their respective staffs are reasonable people), but perhaps it would extend to other realms, especially if one of these hoaxes or a future one affects the financial industry. This a dangerous path, I don't know if I support this kind of action, even if in the name of comedy.

    Devil Bill because he's the corporate devil like Rush and Reuters

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fraud, imitation, or parody

    I can't see it being imitation (unless they were aiming at flattery) as they didn't try and follow the same line as the real CoG. I can't see it being fraud either because the false group weren't trying to profit at the expense of the real CoG from the fake press release (unless you equate profit to the group gaining publicity and therefore more members and therefore more income). It's more parody because the aim of the operation was to poke fun at the real CoG. The actual implements used could have been real or fake, but it's the end result that it is important to take into account to decide if it was to poke fun or to actually harm the CoG.

  4. James Halliday

    The point of a parody

    is that the audience knows it's a parody.

    The audience has pre-conceived notion of what is being parodied, compares it to the parody, does a little compare and contrast in their head - and seems the humour (or at least the point of the parody).

    Oh course not everybody involved has to know it's a wind-up, Brass-eye, Ali-G etc, they set out to fool the person on camera, but most people on the other end of the lens knew it was a wind-up.

    Maybe their defence should be that the idea of the Chamber of Commerce reversing their position and accepting the need to act on climate change is so preposterous that no reasonable person would have believed the press conference to be true?

  5. Big Al

    Passing Off

    Much as I admire the Yes Men's intent, holding a fake news conference was clearly crossing the line into fraud. Legislation about 'passing off' would probably cover it better than DMCA though.

  6. Paul 4

    This is to far...

    Lets say the website was about finance. Somthing like "We have withdrawn all support for all banks held up by government money". The effect then would have been much worse than a few people getting angry. It could have caused a run on those banks, and major damage to the worlds finacial systems (again).

    There clearly is a line and if this is not over it, then it is very very close.

  7. FFred

    Obvious fake US chamber of commerce guy

    He didn't even have a pencil over his ear. That was a dead giveaway IMO.

    Obviously those pranksters poorly researched their subject.

  8. Apocalypse Later

    Imagine if...

    ...someone published a letter from Al Gore, confessing that he has known all along that global warming is a myth, but knew he could make money out of it. He's sorry the whole thing got blown out of proportion, and promises to give ten percent of his carbon trading gains to the oil companies.

    Would the liberals think this was an hilarious parody or an evil deception? It's only free speech if it advances their agenda.

    On one level this is just another instance of the unreliability of the internet as a source of fact. Eventually, the internet will be used for nothing but entertainment, streaming movies and TV shows, themselves created largely by CGI.

    I look forward to the "parody" defense being applied to the spoofing of online banking sites.

  9. Sir Runcible Spoon

    two words

    innocent until proven guilty.

    yes, I know.

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    I believe that the US Chamber of Commerce can bend over and kiss their ass goodbye after this. I don't think that I have ever seen the balloon of pomposity so well pricked as in this instance!

    Bloody Brilliant!

  11. Eddie Edwards

    Hear hear!

    What Kevin said. This is certainly borderline fraud, and I don't see much evidence that it *wasn't* intended to dupe the news agencies. The EFF are rushing in with support which may well be unjustified. And why did no-one get Reuters' response? They're the damaged party here - the defrauded ones.

  12. TeeCee Gold badge

    Street Theatre?

    Seen such myself several times. Rather realistic and conspicuously lacked a bloke holding a placard saying "Warning: This is parody". In all cases, the only reason that I was suspicious is 'cos I know that street theatre exists and the actions seemed too outrageous too be real.

    I suppose that Jonathan Handel could conceivably have a point if everything else on the Internet were the gospel truth and that all the actions of the "fake chamber" were genuinely believable. That'll be "no" on both counts then.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Parody or real?

    The relevant precedent surely is Kissinger apparently being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

  14. David Kesterson
    Thumb Up


    Our reporter leads us to consider whether our greatest concern ought not to be about the demise of the "Gray Lady," who appears here in the South in a blue dress. She is slipping and may just need to be put in a home. While anyone with common sense would understand that the fraudulent web site was not the US C of C, how could it slip by Reuters with its sterling UK roots, surely a savvy news agency. What ever happened to critical thinking?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Eddie Edwards

    RE: Reuters being defrauded.

    One could argue that as they failed to take any steps to confirm what was otherwise a total, unlikely and unforseen policy change before passing it off as factual it is Reuters who are committing the fraud (of being a serious news outfit) rather than being the victims.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    @Too far

    Paul, I call bullshit on your argument. While shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater is a crime for a good reason, but in an open field it's not and for an equally good reason. Context is everything. Take down your straw man and get out in the fresh air a bit, please.

  17. Graham Marsden

    Stupid stunt....

    ... Fine, ok, take the mickey out of the US Chamber of Commerce on something like The Daily Show (the UK equivalent would perhaps be Bremner, Bird and Fortune) where people *know* that it's satire,

    But pretending to actually *be* the US Chamber of Commerce and issuing statements etc as if they are legitimate is just stupid and can only backfire on you.

    If the guy on the podium, when challenged, had put his hands up and said "Ok, it's a fair cop, we're doing this to highlight the problems we have with the current position" then they might have got away with it, but trying to maintain the pretence and whining about "you'll have to pay for the cost of the room" just makes them look petty and stupid.

    I'm all for the right of freedom of expression, but you should use that right in a *responsible* way and IMO they've done themselves more harm than good.

  18. Number6

    If you have to check...

    Then it was a good parody/satire. The best ones always contain enough elements of the real thing (or at least the common stereotype) that one is left with the feeling that it just *might* be true. Admittedly the press conference was well above and beyond the call of duty, but I guess it's too much to expect that reporters will take more precautions in future. Too much rush to be first, and not enough care taken to be correct.

  19. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Wake up ...FFS. Smell the Java. Cast off your chains. Open up your closed minds.

    One could easily argue and also easily win that Gordon Brown and Labour saying that they are running GB is a fraud perpetrated in a conspiracy with intellectually challenged media moguls/tame dogs.

  20. Marvin the Martian

    @James Halliday: "the point of parody"

    "The point of a parody is that the audience knows it's a parody." Very true.

    But the short reply is: you've heard of Trolls, right? Ask serious but stupid question, get passionate/didactic answers? Other straight-faced humour?

    Elaborating, (a) a good parody can start believably and stray into the deeply surreal --- so that the audience only finds out after a while, and starts to question when/where it crossed a line. So in a press conference this may be at the Questions/Answers for all I care, leaving a quick-filing hack caught out.

    But crucially here to your remark, (b) the audience is not the handful of stuffed shirts impersonated nor the attending journos, but those tens (hundreds) of thousands (most extra, 'coz this DMCA notice) arriving to the Yes Men site or movie --- all those understand it's a spoof. In their movie for example, they convince a business audience that the case for slavery is a strong one (see also under: Swift, J. "a modest proposal"). No admittance of parody, but the viewer knows.

    And the other way around, e.g. the "peanut butter refutes evolution" [e.g. ] argument is completely hilarious from second one and obviously nonsense, and makes you think where the strawman is inserted etc; however it's not a parody as the reverend is serious and several re-posters support every sentence in it.

    Essentially, requesting a DMCA takedown places them at the gun/foot interface.

  21. Combat Wombat


    Curse you Runcible Spoon !!

    Had to be said ^_^

  22. Paul RND*1000

    The best thing about this... that it should be a reminder to all of just how shoddy most mainstream journalism is these days.

    In the headlong rush to be first with the headline, "fact checking", "research" and other such impediments to winning the news cycle have been taken out behind the newsroom and executed.

    I'd like to see the news media either start doing it's job properly again so these sorts of embarrassments are much less likely and we're all much better informed by what they tell us, or keep suffering humiliation after humiliation until enough people realize that they just can't be trusted any more.

    I'd prefer the first outcome but I'll take anything that isn't an increasingly mediocre, untrustworthy news media which is still trusted by too many people, which is where we're headed right now.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Wake up ...FFS. Smell the Java.

    amanfrommars -

    To borrow from the excellent Jacques Mesrine - is there really a difference between opening a bank and robbing one?

  24. MeRp

    Business Card?

    When did a business card become a legitimate form of identification. Next parody they need to stump up the $15 and get a set of business cards from Kinkos, since that will make them really part of whatever organization they claim.

  25. steven W. Scott

    The REAL fraud is...

    Climate change itself. Show me a world without climate change and I'll show you a dead planet. Morons.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    @real fraud

    Come now steven, don't start using reality as a yardstick for this discussion. It's WAY beyond that. This is about SALVATION and all its benefits. Give yourself to the Green Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong.

    You don't know the *power* of the Green Side, I *must* obey my master.


  27. Rolf Howarth
    Thumb Down


    I think I'd have to agree this is verging on fraud. If reasonable people aren't aware that it's a parody then it's not really parody. It wasn't designed to amuse and entertain people but to promote the interests and political agenda of the people carrying out the prank.

    It's no different from putting out a bunch of fake electoral leaflets in the name of of your opponent to discredit them, for example. If it's totally obvious to everyone that it's a joke and is just designed as a humorous way to get people to think about the issues then that's one thing, but if you go out of your way to deceive people by impersonating the people you disagree with that's something else and puts you on VERY dodgy ground legally.

  28. PerfectBlue

    The Conspiracy nuts were right

    Sadly this is yet another case when the conspiracy nuts and the "thin end of the wedgers" have been proved right. What we are seeing here is a clear cut case of an excess of government, and the abuse of a badly written law.

    That website is a clear and undeniable demonstration of parody, and of the application of the first amendment right to free speech. While it's removal is a clear example of government trampling all over the rights of citizens to hold their government to account.

    We need to ask ourselves what the next step of such a government is going to be? Suppose that data from government scientists, or from a government funded experiment, show up something hideously embarrassing for the state? Will the government use copyright legislation to prevent the news media from telling the public?

    The DMCA needs to be taken off of the statute books. It's a bad piece of legislation. A bullies charter to crush fair use and free speech by the average man on the street, and the government should be ashamed of itself for using it in this way.

  29. Chief sub

    We've been here before

    The Yes Men have previous when it comes to pulling this kind of stunt. They were behind the startling admission by "Dow company spokesman Jose Finisterra" that the company accepted full responsibility for the Bhopal tragedy and would pay $25bn compensation to victims and their families. It fooled the BBC and sent Dow shares plummeting. Then, as now, it happened because hacks (a) didn't check their sources, and (b) didn't have the nous to suspect that when a story sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't.

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