The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

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Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2003 13:10:19 -0500
From: Ricardo Dominguez <>

NTT/Verio Terminates After Dow Chemical Corporation Threatens
Legal Action against Yes Men Parody

Shutting Down an Entire Artists Network over an Unresolved Complaint
about One Site Sets a Worrisome Precedent for Corporate Control over the
Work of Artists

NEW YORK CITY, NY -- In the contemporary Internet climate of
consolidation, it is increasingly difficult for artists and arts
organizations to find a safe harbor where they are free to create and
where what they create is protected from the limitations and chilling
effects of Internet filters, server content restrictions, and corporate

The legendary THE THING has been an Internet Presence Provider for
activist and arts organizations primarily in the New York area for ten
years. It hosts arts and activist groups and publications including
P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center; ARTFORUM; Mabou Mines; Willoughby Sharp
Among many others, artists and projects associated with have
included Sawad Brooks, Heath Bunting, Vuk Cosic, etoy, John Klima, Jenny
Marketou, Mariko Mori, Prema Murty, Mark Napier, Joseph Nechvatal, Phil
Niblock, Daniel Pflumm, Francesca da Rimini, Beat Streuli, and Beth
Stryker. It also offers dial-up access; authoring and design services;
arts-oriented newsletters, and online conversation spaces. Vistors can
log on as a guest and visit discussions such as undercurrents: a forum
about the interrelations of cyberfeminism, new technologies and
globalization, moderated by Irina Aristahrkova, Maria Fernandez, Coco
Fusco, and Faith Wilding.

But in December, after receiving legal threats from the Dow Chemical
Corporation,'s Internet access provider, NTT/Verio,
temporarily shut of all the sites which hosts and subsequently
gave notice that it will unilaterally terminate's contract on
February 28.

In the letter to Verio, Dow's lawyers asserted that in a parody site,
the Yes Men -- a group who infiltrate "the fortified compounds of
commerce" to call attention to corporate/political abuses -- had
violated the Digital Milenium Copyright Act (DMCA) by using copyrighted
texts and images and had also violated the Anticybersquatting Consumer
Protection Act, which makes it unlawful for a person to register a
domain name incorporating the famous trademarks of another and provides
for statutory damages of up to $300,000.

The Yes Men site was implemented online by RTMark which
publicizes corporate subversion of the democratic process and fosters
art work which investigates corporate activities. Yes Men's parody
looked like a real communication from Dow on the 18th anniversary of the
disaster in which thousands of people died as a result of an accident at
a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Union Carbide is now owned by
Dow. In part, the fake press release read:

"'We are being portrayed as a heartless giant which doesn't care about
the 20,000 lives lost due to Bhopal over the years,' said Dow President
and CEO Michael D. Parker. 'But this just isn't true. Many individuals
within Dow feel tremendous sorrow about the Bhopal disaster, and many
individuals within Dow would like the corporation to admit its
responsibility, so that the public can then decide on the best course of
action, as is appropriate in any democracy. "Unfortunately, we have
responsibilities to our shareholders and our industry colleagues that
make action on Bhopal impossible. And being clear about this has been a
very big step.'"

Parody and the use of corporate-owned images in artworks have been found
to be protected in some cases. For instance, last year a federal court
dismissed toymaker Mattel's lawsuit which sought to stop artist Tom
Forsythe from using the Barbie doll in a series of photographs
commenting on the doll and the values it embodies.

"The intellectual property laws do not grant corporations the right to
control all artistic speech concerning the role of products and
corporations in our society," Annette L. Hurst, Lead Counsel from the
law firm Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin, which
represented Forsythe in Mattel v. Walking Mountain Productions,
commented about that case.

In the Dow case -- if, as the Yes Men put forth on their web site, they
filed for the domain name using the name and the home
address of James Parker, the son of the Dow CEO -- the situation may be
complicated because of compounded cybersquatting issues.

However, Verio's shutting down of an entire network over an unresolved
complaint about one site sets a worrisome precedent for corporate
control over the work of artists -- making it possible to intimidate a
provider to the point where the existence of challenging art on the
Internet could be in jeopardy.

"If we could afford a good legal team I think we could challenge them on
the grounds that they didn't have to shut down's complete
c-class network (256 IPs) to get rid of the RTMark site. (which occupies
only one out of the 256 addresses). To shut down the complete network is
not something they were required to do by the DMCA," artist Wolfgang
Staehle, Executive Director of, emphasized.

THE THING -- which since 1991 has fostered network artists, critics,
curators, and activists and in the shifting Internet climate of the last
decade, has sought ways to interconnect their diverse interests and
activities -- now seeks to locate on a system which will be hospitable
to art and activist content.

In response to a question from CURRENT about what kind of systems would implement if it were to set up its own autonomous
network, Wolfgang Staehle commented that "Our intention is to build
redundancies into the system by setting up backup servers with
cooperative ISPs in Europe and elsewhere. Another solution we've been
discussing is to purchase a block of 4096 IPs from ARIN [American
Registry for Internet Numbers] and have two upstream providers. This
won't solve all the problems but it could give us a bit more room to
maneuver in similar future situations, should they arise."

Meanwhile, a lot of people have offered some kind of support --
including donations from two to 200 dollars, Brian Boucher, Editor of
THING.REVIEWS, told NYFA Current. "We've been around for ten years.
People really do appreciate what we do; it's very encouraging -- a
matter of raising some money; evaluating offers; seeing how things work
out with Verio." Boucher also noted that in response to articles in THE
NEW YORK TIMES and WIRED, many people have contacted Verio. "Verio
originally told us that they would work out a timetable. We are going on
the assumption that we have until February 28, but they have not yet
followed up on the timetable," he commented.

Although the Yes Men parody site now bounces to the real Dow Chemical
site, many mirror sites have sprung up, including:

Trying to suppress such a site "is like the proverbial fight with the
Hydra," commented Wolfgang Staehle. "For the Yes Men and their
supporters, the site is a parody, and I personally tend to agree. If
they were to put a disclaimer on the page it wouldn't work -- it
wouldn't have the same effect. So for the parody to be effective, they
had to use the logos and the corporate lingo and so on. What the Yes Men
are doing is really performance art. Only they prefer the arena of the
real world to the theater or the gallery."








"First Amendment Protects Criticism of Barbie Doll and the Values it
Represents, Federal Court Affirms"
Arts Wire CURRENT --
September 11, 2001

"The Lawsuit Against etoy is Dropped"
Arts Wire Current --
February 8, 2000 Volume 9, No. 6

Matthew Mirapaul
"Cyberspace Artists Paint Themselves Into a Corner"
December 12, 2002

Michelle Delio
"DMCA: Dow What It Wants to Do"
WIRED -,1283,57011,00.html
December 31, 2002

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