Justin on TV, in the papers

Yesterday morning, Santa Rosa’s local news station, KFTY TV50, interviewed me about my Exodus billboard parody and the ACLU’s involvement in defending my freedom of speech.

A friend of mine, Kyle Rankin, conveniently the author of Linux Multimedia Hacks (published by my employer, O’Reilly Media, Inc.), offered to record the segment on his Archos AV430 so that I could see it (and put it up here on my blog). Enjoy.

Justin Watt on Santa Rosa KFTY TV50

Oh yeah, on page 3B of today’s USA Today (Friday, March 24, 2006), there’s an article by Jon Swartz on the case with the headline: Christian group Exodus backs off infringement case against blog parody (also available via Yahoo News).

Update: on page C7 of today’s New York Times (Monday, March 27, 2006), there’s an article by Lia Miller with the snarkalicious headline: Both Sides in Parody Dispute Agree on a Term: Unhappy (with a screenshot of Justinsomnia in the print edition!)

Update: OK, it’s not every day that a screenshot of your blog is printed in the New York Times, so for anyone who wasn’t able to see a print copy, here it is scanned in:

Scan of 'Both Sides in Parody Dispute Agree on a Term: Unhappy' article from the New York Times

psst: My name is actually spelled Justin Watt.

Here’s the full text:

Both Sides in Parody Dispute Agree on a Term: Unhappy
By Lia Miller
Published: March 27, 2006

Last September, Justin Watt, a blogger based in Northern California, posted an altered version of a billboard on his Web site, justinsomnia.org. He was mocking an advertisement for Exodus International, a Christian organization whose objective is to make gay people heterosexual through religion and counseling.

Earlier this month, Mr. Watt found out how serious Exodus was, even about parody: he and another Web site that posted his parody received cease and desist letters from Liberty Counsel, a law firm representing Exodus International, asking them to take down the image and stop using Exodus’s logo.

The Exodus billboard, which was placed on roadsides throughout the country, read “Gay? Unhappy? www.exodus.to.”

Mr. Watt, who is not gay, decided to protest the message by posting an image of the billboard on his site, altering it to read “Straight? Unhappy? www.gay.com”

“The original billboard is ridiculous to me, but you really understand that it becomes a ridiculous claim when you see it put the other way,” he said.

Mr. Watt, who is now being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, erased the Exodus logo from the image but did not take down the parody.

Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, said the group did not want someone to think that it had endorsed the image. And he says he has no problem with it now that the logo is gone.

“I’m a fan of parody myself, I watch ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I read The Onion, it’s funny. But when it gets too close to something that could be misconstrued as ours by someone looking for help. I take issue with that,” he said. Mathew D. Staver, the president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, maintains that its only concern was to get the logo removed. On Friday, Exodus dropped its case against Mr. Watt.

But Tamara Lange, a senior staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project, said that the point of the initial letter from Liberty Counsel was clearly not just about the logo. “It’s no surprise that they are backtracking now that their scare tactics didn’t work. The original letter from them was an attempt to make Justin take down his criticism.”

Mr. Watt said he was mainly happy that his message made an impression. “It’s bothersome that you could market in some way that you really target a minority group that already is underprivileged. It’s marketing in such a way to make someone feel bad about who they are.”

· Parody