The U.S. Chamber filed a lawsuit yesterday against activists who last week staged a fake news conference announcing that the business trade group had changed its policy on climate legislation.
The suit filed in federal district court cites trademark and copyright infringement and said that the Yes Men group staged the press conference stunt for financial gain.
"The defendants are not merry pranksters tweaking the establishment," Steven Law, the chamber's chief legal officer and general counsel, said in a statement. "Instead, they deliberately broke the law in order to further commercial interest in their books, movies, and other merchandise." The movie "The Yes Men Fix the World" opened Friday.
"The acts are nothing less than commercial identity theft masquerading as social activism," the lawsuit complaint says. "These infringing and fraudulent acts are antithetical to public debate on important issues, because they prevent the public and the press from knowing the true position" of the chamber "and they disguise the true motives of the person who took that property."
Yes Men member Jacques Servin, who also goes by the alias Andy Bichlbaum, in response to the lawsuit said "it's really disappointing that the chamber would take this approach to something that's clearly political speech." Servin, who is named in the lawsuit, was one of the leaders of the Oct. 19 stunt in which the Yes Men held a press conference at the National Press Building in Washington, D.C.
Prior to the press conference, the group set up a Web site at the address chamber-of-commerce.us. The lawsuit came after the Yes Men refused to take down the site, the chamber press release said. The chamber on Thursday sent a letter to Hurricane Electric, the Internet service provider of the site, demanding they remove the fraudulent content, said chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder. Hurricane took down the page, Fielder said. The Yes Men then restored the site through a new ISP, Fielder said. The fake site is up today.
The Web site appears identical to the chamber's actual site but contains a fake "press releases" and "speeches" page, the chamber's lawsuit said. It also includes a link to the actual chamber site -- what the lawsuit called "painstaking, sophisticated design," -- to ensure that the fake identity of the site would be concealed.
The Yes Men on its Web site criticized the chamber action against the fake Web site Friday, saying it resulted in Hurricane Electric temporarily also taking down 400 other businesses.
"This is a blow against free speech, and it demonstrates in gory detail the full hypocrisy of the Chamber," the Yes Men said in a statement attributed to Andy Bichlbaum. "The only freedom they care about is the economic freedom of large corporations to operate free of the hassles of science, reality, and democracy."
The chamber rejected the free-speech argument in its statement.
"The Chamber is a strong proponent of free speech and encourages public debate on issues of the day," Law said. "However, the law is clear that you can't misappropriate others' intellectual property for personal financial gain."
"We are confident that we have strong legal claims and that this is an appropriate response to protect our intellectual property rights," Law added.
Stunt last week
At the fake press conference on Oct. 19, Servin stood behind a podium that used a logo identical to the chamber's logo. The group issued a statement purporting to be from U.S. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue, proclaiming support for the Senate cap-and-trade bill sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
"The Kerry-Boxer Bill is a good start to a strong climate bill, and the Chamber will work with Senators Kerry and Boxer to strengthen it," the statement read. It then added that the chamber supports a "carbon tax," as well.
The event came in the wake of the chamber facing the defection of a few member companies that left citing the group's position on climate policy.
The chamber opposed the sweeping climate change bill approved by the House in late June and also argues that it would be inappropriate for U.S. EPA to regulate heat-trapping emissions using its current Clean Air Act Authority. In recent weeks, the chamber emphasized that it backs "strong federal legislation and a binding international agreement to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change."
After the fake press conference, Reuters reported the chamber's decision to drop its opposition to climate legislation, then subsequently reported the hoax. The television network CNBC also reported that the chamber was supporting Senate legislation but also then reported that it was a prank.
The press conference also used fake reporters, including one who claimed to be from E&E Daily.
Pressuring IT companies
Greenpeace, along with MoveOn.org and other left-leaning groups, continued to seize on the negative publicity surrounding the chamber by pressing companies to leave the trade group.
Greenpeace today issued a listing of technology companies' climate policies. It criticized Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp., saying they "still hesitate to speak up on the urgent need for emissions reductions, despite the reality that they stand to profit from said reductions."
"IT companies continue to fund the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's regressive and destructive stance on climate issues, even when unaligned with their own climate policies," Greenpeace said in its statement.
Apple Inc. left the chamber two weeks ago, citing disagreement over climate policy.