Autism Speaks got pissed off because [14-year-old] Kelly, [a child with autism], built a parody website, NTSpeaks, which humorously suggested that interventions for certain annoying and intolerant behaviors of the non-autistic population might be in order. The site was designed to resemble Autism Speaks' website.Thinking this might be one of those "grapevine" stories that gets exaggerated as it's passed on, I wrote and asked Adam Pockriss, the public relations person for Autism Speaks, what it was all about. Here is Autism Speaks' official statement:
Building such a site was, of course, completely legal. American copyright law specifically states that a parody is not a copyright violation. Additionally, the First Amendment protects parodies along with other forms of free speech. The parody is a time-honored genre in American public discourse; concerned citizens have been expressing their political opinions by way of parody ever since rebellious colonists in the 1700s plastered their cities with handbills lampooning King George.
Apparently Autism Speaks' lawyers decided, however, that it would be very easy to intimidate an autistic child who did not have the means to fight back. They sent Kelly a letter containing a ridiculous demand for $90,000 for "funds lost." Then they followed that up by claiming that they were willing to settle the matter without receiving any payment because of Kelly's age, provided the website was taken down. They also browbeat Kelly into destroying the source code and giving the domain name to Autism Speaks.
Autism Speaks, like every organization, is obliged to protect its name and trademark. The individual who used the Autism Speaks name and logo without permission was asked to desist, and he agreed to do so. Autism Speaks provides a valuable resource for families who have just received an autism diagnosis, for those individuals and families living with autism, and for the community at large interested in finding out more about the disorder, science, treatment and advocacy. If an improper use of our name or logo creates confusion among those we serve about the source of information they are seeking, it is a disservice to all.I followed up by asking whether the person in question was, in fact, a 14-year old child with autism - and whether he was threatened with a lawsuit. In response, Adam replied "No, Autism Speaks did not threaten to sue."
Based on this, I'm guessing that the individual in question was, indeed, a 14-year old child with autism... and that, while Autism Speaks may not have actually threatened to sue, they certainly made it clear that the site was to be removed - immediately - or serious consequences would ensue.
I'm not quite sure how this story became so public - but it has, and its impact may be significant. What's your feeling about this situation? Does it deserve more attention, or is it just a minor bump in the road?