March 08, 2013 Articles

Prank as Parody?

Enforcement of trademark rights against "identity correction" imposters.

By James W. Faris

A new tactic employed by some activist groups in recent years is to impersonate large corporations and other persons whose policies the activists dislike by creating fake websites, social-media sites, and press releases that contain statements purporting to originate from the target but that are in fact incongruent with the target's activities or publicly stated positions. This tactic—which has been described by one such activist group, The Yes Men, as "identity correction"—has been used to spoof the World Trade Organization, Bank of America, Halliburton, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Apple, Shell, Chick-fil-A, Dow Chemical, and General Electric, to name just a few. In one case, the activist group The Yes Men impersonated the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by obtaining the domain name, creating a fake website at that domain designed to mimic the chamber's actual website, issuing fake, official-looking press releases and hosting a fake press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to announce that the chamber had drastically changed its position on climate change legislation. An actual chamber representative exposed group's ruse during the press conference but not before several news outlets already had taken the bait, including Reuters, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

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