Normal Is Overrated

Musings and meanderings on the autistic spectrum

June 22, 2008

Autism Speaks Against Autistic Free Speech and Fair-Use Parody

CORRECTION — 27 June 2008: The designer of the shirt described in this post has been in contact with Zazzle, and it turns out that the shirt was not directly removed because of an Autism Speaks complaint. Instead, it was in fact a proactive action taken by a Zazzle employee; see my post from tonight for further details. In the interest of correctness, I have struck out the portion of this post containing that accusation. The NT Speaks takedown, however, still does appear to be Autism Speaks’ doing, so that section of this post will remain intact.

(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.

Filed under: Autism Speaks,Controversies — codeman38 @ 4:22 pm


  1. There might be another way to attack this. Autism Speaks is trying to (fraudulently) portray that they are the voice of autism and the voice of everyone with autism. To suppress the speech of autistic individuals who are merely stating that Autism Speaks does not speak for them is to perpetuate their fraudulent message.

    A way to approach this might be to put together a class action lawsuit against Autism Speaks for fraudulently claiming to speak for all individuals with autism and require that they put a disclaimer on their website and all printed materials that Autism Speaks does not speak for all people with autism.

    If Autism Speaks can put up a case for $90,000 damages in the case that abfh discussed, then surely each autistic individual who has had their voice stolen by Autism Speaks has lost something. It is only fair that Autism Speaks compensate them.

    Comment by daedalus2u — June 23, 2008 @ 8:22 am

  2. I’m wondering why this sound familiar… Oh right, because I had my website taken down by scientologists. Does autism speaks really want anonymous after them, as well?

    Comment by jude — June 23, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  3. I wonder what they think of my new blog and domain name?

    When I looked, .org, .net and similar domains were still available. might be a good one to buy…

    Also, blogger seems to support free speech to an extreme degree so blogs with names like might be something people would want to create.

    I think people could start up Zazzle shops and put in similar t-shirt designs like Zach’s. It would take them a whle to find a few dozen or a few hundred similar designs in Zazzle or cafepress.

    Comment by ASDSFM — June 23, 2008 @ 3:54 pm

  4. I talked to someone at autism speaks and they claim they never sent any notice to Zazzle, that Zazzle felt the young man was violating their terms of services and unilaterally decided to pull his ads. There is not a shred of credible evidence that autism speaks is involved in this, just a letter that the young man with the t shirt company alleges that zazzle wrote him.

    Comment by jonathan — June 25, 2008 @ 1:51 am

  5. jonathan: As it turns out, you were in fact correct. I have updated the post accordingly; sorry it was so late, but I did want to get the full story from Zazzle before I made any further potentially inaccurate accusations.

    Comment by codeman38 — June 27, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

  6. well yes, thanks for the retraction and apology, also kudos to Zach for doing the same. I am still waiting for Amanda Baggs and the autism bitch from hell and others who made these grondless accusations to do the same. I am also waiting for Alex Plank to admit he made the error of running this on the front page of wrong planet and to make some sort of retraction.

    Comment by jonathan — June 29, 2008 @ 12:48 am

  7. I doubt that Amanda Baggs will ever recant. She’s too deep in her psychogenic autism to do anything ‘against’ an Autistic.

    Comment by Anonymous Gamer — July 15, 2010 @ 3:32 am

  8. @Anonymous Gamer: A shame you couldn’t do the research, because Amanda did retract the statement on her blog. Next!

    Comment by codeman38 — July 15, 2010 @ 10:14 am

  9. i have a brother that is autistic and we love him so much and gave all of our support on him ~;;

    Comment by Personalized Mugs — December 4, 2010 @ 3:37 am

  10. The problem:
    Autism $peaks don’t know me
    They say that I have got no life
    They won’t understand me
    So how dare they judge my mind?
    (To be sung to the melody of ‘U Don’t Know Me’.)

    Comment by Naughty Autie — August 13, 2018 @ 5:05 pm

  11. @ codeman38: Yes, because a link to a long list of articles is proof of everything. Epic fail, dude. No wonder Anonymous Gamer (amongst others) can’t find the retraction you claim exists.

    Comment by Naughty Autie — August 13, 2018 @ 5:10 pm

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