The United States Chamber of Commerce has come to its senses at last and withdrawn its lawsuit against political activists the Yes Men. In the lawsuit, the Chamber had claimed that a 2009 press conference—in which a Yes Man posing as a Chamber of Commerce spokesperson announced the Chamber was reversing its long held position and endorsing climate change legislation—infringed the Chamber's trademark rights. Before the press conference was even completed, a Chamber of Commerce representative rushed into the room and announced that the Chamber's position on climate change legislation had not in fact changed. The result: widespread media coverage of the event and the Chamber's humorless response. The Yes Men tell the story best.
Did the Chamber of Commerce finally get a sense of humor? Or did it just realize the lawsuit was doomed?
At that point, things took a dangerous turn. Rather than letting matters lie, the Chamber pulled out all the stops to try to punish the activists. First, it sent an improper copyright takedown notice to the Yes Men's upstream provider demanding that a parody website posted in support of the action be removed immediately and resulting in the temporary shutdown of not only the spoof site but hundreds of other sites hosted by the Yes Men's web host. Next, the Chamber filed suit against the activists in federal court.
With help from EFF and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, the Yes Men fought back, moving to dismiss the claims on First Amendment grounds. As we explained, you can’t use trademark law to punish free speech just because the speaker happens to use your trademarks as a necessary part of its activism.
Did the Chamber of Commerce finally get a sense of humor? Or did they just realize their lawsuit was doomed? Either way, it’s a long-overdue victory for the Yes Men and their increasingly popular brand of political parody and satire.
The Yes Men are holding a new press conference responding to the Chamber’s decision to drop the case. Watch this space for more on their response.
UPDATE: There is apparently no such thing as a free lunch for the Yes Men — at least not one from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Still, they've posted highlights from their press conference on the steps of the Chamber, which we've embedded below.