(Cross-posted, in slightly modified form, from DailyKos.)
You might recall that a while back, I posted an entry criticizing some of the tactics of the autism charity Autism Speaks, which I originally posted at DailyKos.
Well, let’s all be thankful that they haven’t (yet) forced DailyKos to take that post down— or, worse yet, sent a cease-and-desist notice to the hosting provider for my personal blog— because of alleged intellectual property infringement. As utterly absurd as that may sound, it is precisely what they’ve done to
not one but two autistic bloggers an autistic parodist who have has dared to criticize that organization.
Back in January of this year, an autistic teenager by the pseudonym of ‘abscout’ created a web site parodying Autism Speaks’ site, as shown from an alternate perspective: what if there were an organization dedicated to eradicating all traces of neurotypicality, i.e., lack of autism? It was no more infringing than pretty much any parody in, say, Mad magazine— and, of course, parody has long been legally protected as a fair use of copyrights and trademarks.
That didn’t, of course, stop Autism Speaks from sending the site’s author a cease-and-desist notice— an incident which was even covered in the popular press magazine New Scientist.
One would think the backlash from this incident would have been enough of an embarrassment that Autism Speaks’ lawyers might be a bit more cautious… but no, it seems they’re back to their old tricks.
Just this month, another autistic blogger created a T-shirt through Zazzle, a custom shirt printing service, with the text: “Autism Speaks can go away. I have Autism. I can speak for myself.” No use of any sort of trademarked logos or designs, only the use of a company name in plain text; no libelous attacks, just a statement distancing the wearer of the shirt from a particular organization. Surely that’s got to be fair use, since there’s not exactly any other way to clearly refer to that organization, right?
Not according to Autism Speaks, of course. This time, the organization’s legal team sent a cease-and-desist notice to Zazzle, forcing them to pull the shirt in question from their online catalog. The shirt’s designer found out about this upon receiving a notification from Zazzle; after further inquiry, it was revealed that this takedown wasn’t just a proactive move by Zazzle, as some had assumed, but was indeed the result of a complaint by Autism Speaks.
In my opinion, this puts Autism Speaks in a bad light: an organization that not only seems unwilling to listen to criticism (as I already covered in my previous post), but actively tries to quash that same criticism through spurious intellectual property complaints. And there’s hardly any doubt that, at the very least, the most recent complaint is spurious: there are already plenty of precedents demonstrating that the use of trademarked names in a critical context is legal. Indeed, some of these past criticisms have even led companies to change the very practices that prompted their critics to complain.
If only Autism Speaks could do the same… but no. One quickly gets the impression that Autism Speaks would rather hush criticism than concede that autistics might actually have a valid point.