Satirical website criticizes Glenn Beck for 'hypocritical' attempts to silence free speech

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

In a court filing Tuesday in the ongoing case before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Geneva, Switzerland, a satirical website which parodies American political commentator Glenn Beck argues Beck is attempting to silence free speech.

Florida resident Isaac Eiland-Hall created the website in September, and it asserts Beck uses questionable tactics "to spread lies and misinformation". The website is being represented in the case Beck v. Eiland-Hall by free speech lawyer Marc Randazza. Wikinews interviewed Randazza for the article "US free speech lawyer Marc Randazza discusses Glenn Beck parody", and previously reported on the case in an article earlier this month, "US free speech lawyer defends satire of Glenn Beck".

Glenn Beck in 2009
Image: Mark87.

Eiland-Hall's website is located at the domain "www.GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com". Its premise is derived from a joke statement made by Gilbert Gottfried about fellow comedian Bob Saget. Users of the Internet discussion community Fark first applied the joke to Beck, and it then became popular on several social media sites. Eiland-Hall saw the discussion on Fark, and created a website about it. The website asserts it does not believe the rumors to be true, commenting, "[b]ut we think Glenn Beck definitely uses tactics like this to spread lies and misinformation." The website was created on September 1, and just two days later attorneys for Beck's company Mercury Radio Arts took action. Beck's lawyers sent letters to the domain name registrar where they referred to the domain name itself as "defamatory", but failed to get the site removed.

Beck filed a formal complaint with the Switzerland-based agency of the United Nations, WIPO, who operate under regulations laid out by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Beck asserts the website's usage is libelous, bad faith, and could befuddle potential consumers. Beck's complaint was filed under the process called the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy. This policy allows trademark owners to begin an administrative action by complaining that a certain domain registration is in "bad faith". Beck argues the site should be shut down because it is an infringement upon his trademark in his own name, "Glenn Beck".

Eiland-Hall retained Randazza as his attorney after receiving threatening letters from legal representatives of Beck. On September 28, Randazza filed a response brief to WIPO, contending the site is "protected political speech", due to it's "satirical political humor". Randazza stated, "[e]ven an imbecile would look at this Web site and know that it’s a parody." Randazza's brief comments on Beck's style of reporting, and highlight a controversial statement made by him when interviewing a Muslim US Congressman. Beck said to Representative Keith Ellison, "I like Muslims, I've been to mosques. ... And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview because what I feel like saying is, sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies." According to the Citizen Media Law Project, the website's joke premise takes advantage of "a perceived similarity between Beck's rhetorical style and the Gottfried routine".

Randazza argues in the response filed on behalf of Eiland-Hall that Beck is using the process of the WIPO court to infringe the free speech rights of his client; "Beck is attempting to use this transnational body to circumvent and subvert the Respondent's [web site owner] constitutional rights [to freedom of speech]," he wrote. Randazza cites the U.S. Supreme Court case, Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, in arguing that Beck's attorneys advised him against filing legal action in a U.S. court because the website would likely be seen as a form of parody and due to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, such legal action would not be successful.

WIPO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (2004)
Image: Metatron.

On September 29, Randazza sent a request to Beck's representatives, asking that their client agree to stipulate to the United States Constitution, and especially to the First Amendment, during the case before the WIPO. In the request, Randazza quotes a statement from Beck himself about the usage of international law by United States citizens, Beck said, "[o]nce we sign our rights over to international law, the Constitution is officially dead." In an interview with Wikinews on Monday, Randazza stated that Beck had not replied to his request to stipulate to the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment in the WIPO case.

Cquote1.svg [Glenn Beck's] hypocritical attempts to squelch legitimate free speech criticism do nothing to portray himself in a more flattering light. Cquote2.svg

Marc Randazza

On Tuesday, Randazza filed a surreply – a response document to an October 13 supplementary filing made by Beck in the case. Attorneys for Beck asserted in the supplementary filing that the joke made by the website is difficult to comprehend, and therefore the domain name is confusing. In Beck's supplementary filing, his lawyers argued, "While there is absolutely nothing humorous or amusing about the statement made by Respondent in his domain name that 'Glenn Beck Raped and Murdered a Young Girl in 1990,' the average Internet user finding the domain name GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlin1990.com ("Disputed Domain Name") in a search would have no reason not to believe that they will be directed to a website providing factual information (as opposed to protected criticism or similar protected speech) about Mr. Beck."

Randazza's surreply asserts, "An average Internet user might not 'get the joke'. In fact, the average Internet user does not understand any internet memes. That's the fun of a meme - it is an esoteric inside joke that will leave most people scratching their heads."

In Randazza's conclusion to the Eiland-Hall surreply, he called Beck "the butt" of a joke he apparently does not understand. Randazza wrote that Beck "should be deeply ashamed" for devaluing the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

"Glenn Beck is the butt of a viral joke. He may not get the joke, but this does not make the joke likely to confuse or subject the domain name to transfer under the UDRP. Glenn Beck’s failure to understand these basic principles of law does not make the joke any less humorous, and does not make him any less of the butt. The First Amendment protects Respondent’s right to make Glenn Beck the butt, and his hypocritical attempts to squelch legitimate free speech criticism do nothing to portray himself in a more flattering light. Because his arguments do not satisfy Section 4(a) of the Policy, his request should be denied. Because he has attempted to silence a critic by circumventing (and thereby devaluing) the First Amendment -- which he publicly (and in this proceeding) claims to love -- he should be deeply ashamed."

Commentators likened the legal conflict between Beck and the site to the Streisand effect, a phenomenon where an individual's attempt to censor material on the Internet in turn proves to make the material itself more public.


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