Kochs Attempt to Unmask Climate Pranksters

| Fri Jan. 28, 2011 7:00 AM EST

A few weeks ago, I reported that Koch Industries didn't take too kindly to the anonymous pranksters who spoofed their position on climate change last month with a fake website and press release. The Kochs argued that the fake site that claimed the company had changed its tune on global warming was bad for the bottom line of Koch Industries. Koch has filed suit, accusing the spoofers of "trademark infringement, cybersquatting, and unfair competition." And, in order to do so, Koch wants the names of the folks behind the prank revealed.

But the anonymous defendants in the case—who are calling themselves "Youth for Climate Truth"—now have representation from an attorney, Deepak Gupta of the public interest group Public Citizen. This week, Gupta asked the judge in the US federal district court in Utah to dismiss the case outright. Public Citizen is also asking the court to quash the subpoena issued to the web hosting company that sought to force it to cough up the names of the pranksters and issue a directive to Koch's lawyers barring them from releasing any information about the defendants that they may have already obtained.

The Koch suit also seeks to purse the pranksters for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a federal offense that is intended to deal with hacking. This one, the defendants' lawyer says, should be a real stretch of the law, since there was no hacking involved in the spoof; it was only a parody of the Koch website and a fake press release.

Revealing the identities of the anonymous people behind the prank and punishing them for it would have a "chilling effect on free speech," Public Citizen argues. "The First Amendment protects anonymous speech and speech on the internet," Gupta tells Mother Jones. Moreover, there is no evidence that the spoof site caused any financial harm to Koch, nor did anyone take the prank seriously, Gupta argues. (See the defendants' filing here.)

This case is pretty similar to the one that the US Chamber of Commerce filed against the Yes Men in 2009 after the pair of notorious pranksters made a mockery of their climate stance as well. There hasn't been any resolution in that case so far.

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