My first cease-and-desist letter

Straight? Unhappy? Billboard ParodyIt seems that Exodus International, the “largest Christian referral and information ministry” in the ex-gay movement has hired Liberty Counsel, “a legal organization dedicated to advancing its organizers’ conceptions of religious freedom the sanctity of human life and the traditional family,” to try and get me to take down my PARODY of Exodus’ “Question Homosexuality” billboard campaign. Umm, no.

Here’s the text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Watt:
Liberty Counsel is a national public interest law firm. We have presented many briefs before the United States Supreme Court, and we have argued before the High Court and in state and federal courts throughout the nation. Liberty Counsel has offices in Florida, Virginia and hundreds of affiliate attorneys licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. We frequently provide assistance to various organizations including Exodus International (“Exodus”).

It has recently come to our attention that your web site, http://justinsomnia.org, is using an image that you admit was taken from the Exodus web site. As you are aware, that image is located at

http://justinsomnia.org/2005/09/question-intolerance/.

You appear to believe that the stolen image is exempt from federal intellectual property laws as a “parody” due to “fair use.” Unfortunately, the intricacies of federal law cannot adequately be covered on “Wikipedia” due to the variety of facts addressed by courts in numerous cases. Your use of the image is indeed a violation of copyright law and is not covered by “fair use.” Nearly the entire image file from the Exodus web site was is used on your web site with only two changes. You changed “Gay” to “Straight?” and “www.exodus.to” to “www.gay.com.” Furthermore, your altered image substantially diminishes the potential value of the original image as utilized by Exodus on billboards across America and online. Moreover, your infringing activity creates the false impression that Exodus is sponsoring or endorsing the altered billboard, in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1125, as it contains the “E” logo mark that belongs to Exodus. You have not been licensed or authorized to use either the image or the logo belonging to Exodus.

We are confident that you will understand our insistence that you immediately cease use of the image on your web site or in any other form. Please confirm your agreement to this request, and please note your confirmation that no other use is being or will be made of the images or logo, by signing and returning an original signature on a copy of this letter at the address shown above, no later than March 15, 2006. We appreciate your anticipated cooperation with this request.

Sincerely,
/s/
Mathew D. Staver, Esq.

All legal advice is welcome and appreciated.

Update: Ex-Gay Watch also receives a C&D.

Update: In a stroke of brilliance, Jason further parodies the Exodus billboard. Religious? Litigious?

Update: One of the more interesting aspects of this letter is the law firm’s mention (and dismissal) of Wikipedia. In an attempt to be OVERT about my act of PARODY, I linked to Wikipedia’s entry on Fair use. Liberty Counsel asserts that:

…the intricacies of federal law cannot adequately be covered on “Wikipedia”…

Though their rationale for this statement is so opaque as to be unintelligible:

…due to the variety of facts addressed by courts in numerous cases.

Hmm. Yeah. Thanks. Care to elaborate? A rough paraphrase: “This isn’t true because of facts. And st00f.”

I thought the folks at Wikipedia would be amused by their inclusion in my cease-and-desist letter. They responded thusly:

Indeed, Wikipedia cannot give legal advice, as is indicated in our legal disclaimer:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Legal_disclaimer

However, best of luck with your legal issues, and thanks for letting us know about the mention!

Update: With legal representation from the ACLU and Fenwick & West, we’ve responded to Liberty Counsel’s cease-and-desist letter.

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