When I moved to Canada, I was shocked to learn that parody is not a specially protected form of speech here. It is in the US, and I like to think I made pretty good use of that principle over the years. You may already be aware of some of the freedom of expression lawsuits media company CanWest has been involved with. Here’s another for the list: CanWest is suing Vancouver activist Mordecai Briemberg for a parody of the Vancouver Sun newspaper – a parody Briemberg maintains he had no hand in creating.
The parody is well done, with high production values, although I doubt anyone could mistake the four-page
parody for the actual newspaper being spoofed. The parody focuses on the alleged pro-Israel bias of the Sun and the Asper family (owners of CanWest). While the suit documentation from CanWest discusses at length Briemberg’s “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian media activities,” the part of the suit that has actual potential legal grounds is trademark infringement. You see, the parody paper creators used the actual title “The Vancouver Sun” and mocked it up to look just like the real newspaper header. However, I daresay that CanWest will be hard pressed to show any actual damages done by reprinting the trademark.
What is most outrageous about this lawsuit is that it is a prime example of a “SLAPP” – a strategic lawsuit against public participation. Such suits are aimed at, well, shutting people up, to put it bluntly.
Briemberg maintains that he had no hand in the creation of the parody paper. Briemberg admits to picking up some copies at a public meeting at the public library and handing them out. Briemberg is a well-known activist who has been critical of the State of Israel and supportive of the Palestinian people. The best I can figure is that CanWest was pissed off about the parody and shot in the dark at a likely suspect who also irritated them, figuring that even if it wasn’t Briemberg, at least maybe the SLAPP in the face would shut him up.
In solidarity with Briemberg and/or out of anger toward this kind of lawsuit and intimidation tactic, several individuals and outlets have been posting copies of the parody paper both in print and online. Great idea!
Here’s my contribution:
Feel free to print it out and put it on your office door, post it in your neighbourhood or your own blog! Better copies of front page and a PDF of the full text (no images) are also available elsewhere.
For ideas of what else you can do/more background on Briemberg and this case, see the recent post from We Read Banned Books and the Seriously Free Speech Website. Or look at the BC Library Association resolution on the issue from the recent AGM. Seriously Free Speech is coordinating many efforts in support of Briemberg, from a Facebook group (go there for details; Facebook is too evil for me) to petition to briefing notes you can use.