Hundreds of activist organizations had their internet service turned off last night after the US Chamber of Commerce strong-armed an upstream provider, Hurricane Electric, to pull the plug on The Yes Men and May First / People Link, a 400-member-strong organization with a strong commitment to protecting free speech.
"This is a blow against free speech, and it demostrates in gory detail the full hypocrisy of the Chamber," said Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men. "The only freedom they care about is the economic freedom of large corporations to operate free of the hassles of science, reality, and democracy."
After suffering embarrassment at the hands of the Yes Men on Monday, the Chamber immediately threatened legal action, then followed through Thursday by sending a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice to Hurricane Electric Internet Services. In the DMCA notice, the Chamber claimed that the parody Chamber website operated by The Yes Men constituted copyright infringement, and demanded that the site be shut down immediately and that the creator's service be canceled.
But the Yes Men are not served directly by Hurricane Electric, but by May First / People Link. And when Hurricane Electric shut down the fake Chamber of Commerce site (now relocated), they also took down the websites of 400 other organizations.
May First / People Link fought back. They immediately "mirrored" the site, and then quickly negotiated with Hurricane Electric to restore service to their other members.
"The DMCA attacks the critically important right we have to effectively comment and criticize institutions and companies," said May First/People Link Co-Director Alfredo Lopez. "It's an undemocratic, backwards law, a perfect example of how the government shouldn't intrude on our lives. But the Chamber was perfectly happy to use it to stomp on the Yes Men's rights to free spech, and the rights of hundreds of other organizations to operate on the web."
The 400 May First / People Link members weren't the only victims of the Chamber's action on Thursday. Today is the start of the national release of the Yes Men's new film, The Yes Men Fix the World. The film is being released in a number of independent theaters - who, not being part of a chain, are heavily dependent on the Yes Men website for selling tickets to the film. The Chamber's actions thus impinge on the ability of these small businesses to turn a profit.
"The Chamber claims to represent 3 million businesses of every size, yet their actions undermined a fair number of small businesses," said Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men. "The Chamber is clearly much less interested in actual freedom, economic or otherwise, than in the license of their largest members to operate free from the scientific consensus." (The Chamber has opposed or refused to endorse a climate bill, the absurdity of which the Yes Men's Monday action was designed to highlight.)
This isn't the first time a Yes Men site has found itself targeted by a DMCA complaint brought by a large corporation. The Yes Men have in the past received DMCA notices from Exxon, Dow Chemical, DeBeers, and the New York Times. In each case, the the Yes Men (represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation) refused to comply, and prevailed. Even the George W. Bush campaign sent a complaint to try to interrupt service to GWBush.com, in 2000, resulting in extensive ridicule that culminated in Bush's mind-boggling gaffe that "There ought to be limits to freedom."