Answers in Nemesis

They say that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. But for our good friends at Answers in Genesis (AiG), fiction and truth are freely interchangeable. The latest bit of hilarity comes courtesy of AiG’s legal counsel, who, aside from not being able to take a joke, apparently has a poor grasp of both the legal and ethical meaning of intellectual (sic) property law.

To begin with the beginning, AiG is America’s leading young-earth creationist outfit, and like all high-caliber scientific organizations, it has its own resident cartoonist. Dan Lietha writes two cartoon series which appear on AiG’s website: CreationWise and After Eden. The drawings are kind of nice in an Ziggy sort of way, but they’re not quite as funny as Mary Worth. Basically, they’re not much more than inane creationist claims made to look cartoonish. . . um, that is, being made into visual form. But they certainly contain lots of unintentional humor, so there’s only one thing left to do: Poke fun at them.

Making parodies of visual materials over the web is hardly a new thing, and as anyone familiar with the frequent Photoshop contests on can tell you, they’re a great venue for fun and artistic talent. So when participants of the Humor forum of the Internet Infidels Discussion Board (IIDB) decided to do a parody of AiG’s cartoons, they were just having harmless, legally permissible fun. Right?

Before I continue, let me give a couple of quick disclaimers. First of all, we here at the Panda’s Thumb do not necessarily endorse the activities of IIDB, nor the content of the cartoon parodies in particular. This is in fact one of the salient points here, that the parodies can only be construed as reflecting their authors’ own (sometimes twisted) sense of humor. Secondly, I myself made a few of the parodies in question. And it’s likely that mine were the most offensive to AiG’s prudish sensibilities, or at least I hope so.

Now in case you haven’t figured it out, the people at AiG aren’t the kind who know how to take a joke. One would imagine that a thread on a relatively low-traffic discussion board wouldn’t be worth making a fuss over, but it somehow garnered AiG’s attention. And they wasted no time in threatening to sue IIDB, having their lawyers send a letter demanding that the entire thread be removed. Among other things, AiG’s lawyers claim that the parodies are “clearly likely to cause confusion as to the affiliation between your client and my client….” This is not only just plain absurd, it’s also self-degrading on the part of AiG, because they’re essentially saying that their cartoons are so bad that a reasonable person (a bit of legalese which may not apply to creationists) would confuse the IIDB parodies with the originals. Yeah, parodies that contain cuss words and sex jokes, according to AiG, are likely to be confused with their own cartoons. This despite the fact that most of the parodies were clearly labeled “parody” (juxtaposed with the original), that the thread was titled “AiG Cartoon Parody Contest”, and that it was located in a forum called the humor forum. This is somewhat reminiscent of Fox News’ lawsuit against Al Franken, which was literally laughed out of court, but even more brain-dead.

Now, there is some potential merit in AiG’s complaint (at least legally meritorious, if still unreasonable to the average biped), and that is the issue of copyright and trademark infringement. AiG and Dan Lietha have the right to insist that their trademarks and copyrights don’t appear on material that they find objectionable, and many of the parodies simply left those in place, changing only the content of the cartoon. I’m no lawyer (perhaps Tim Sandefur can chime in on this), so I don’t know if they had a legitimate case or not, but IIDB decided to accommodate them anyway by asking each of the participants to remove all trademarks and copyrights from their parodies by a certain date. IIDB also deleted any attachments that were stored on their server. That’s why the thread looks so chopped up and piecemeal. Unfortunately, a lot of good parodies were lost in the process, but that’s just the way things go. End of story, right?

Well, it turns out that you just can’t overestimate the hypocrisy of AiG. Never one to pass up an opportunity to beg for money, the organization used this little tempest in a teapot in one of their recent fundraising letters. The letter starts off:

Dear friend, How would you like it if you went to a website and saw our wonderful After Eden cartoon strips - featuring AiG's website address - but the cartoons presented: <ul

  • sexual acts
  • incredibly blasphemous statements
  • homosexual behavior
  • 'R' to ‘X'-rated language - even depicting God with sexual organs
  • </ul> We just had to deal with such a shocking, disgusting situation. For the sake of the name of our Lord, His Word and the integrity of AiG's name, we had to involve attorneys. Let me fill you in about an incredible episode involving some ‘God-haters.'</blockquote> And so it continues. What's most incredible, however, is that the fundraising letter includes a reproduction of one of the parodies without attribution and without permission of the author. And this is in the same letter that they're complaining about copyright infringement! Unlike the IIDB cartoon parodies (sans trademarks), this particular infringement is almost certainly actionable. Furthermore, it's at least as ethically bad if not much worse than what they're complaining about. You really gotta wonder about these people. Here's the original that was parodied (it's funnier if you view the original first) and here's the image they reproduced below:
    This was done by IIDB member "Enigma", and yes, I got his permission. The image in the AiG fundraising has Dan Lietha's name and the AiG copyright still in it; that particular image is no longer in the IIDB thread. The one above has had all the copyrights and trademarks removed (thanks to IIDB member ApostateAbe), so I'm confident that it can be posted here without earning a letter from AiG's lawyers (though it would be cool if I got one anyway, bring it on!) But if Enigma cares to, he can pursue legal action against AiG for using his artwork without his permission and without attribution. Here's AiG's caption:

    This was one of the ‘tamer' - but still disgusting - cartoons illegally altered by some ‘God-haters'.

    Now, the cartoon wasn't illegally altered, because there's no law against altering something for the purpose of parody. At most, only the failure to remove Dan Lietha's name and the AiG copyright gives AiG's claims any legal standing, and that was remedied easily enough. Aside from the blatant hypocrisy in reproducing one of the parodies (twice) without permission, the fundraising letter also neglects to inform its victims that IIDB complied with AiG's request to remove the copyrights and trademarks (the letter says, specifically, that their request was not complied with); that AiG's first course of action (to present the gospel to the "blasphemers") was to call its lawyers; that IIDB did not create the parodies, does not store them on disk, nor does it have control over what the creators decide to do with them; and furthermore, the letter doesn't even mention IIDB by name or provide the url of the thread, referring only to them as 'God-haters', which is hardly an accurate description of atheists and agnostics. Worst of all, it begs for money on the premise that AiG might need to take the case to court, even though the issue has been settled. My, my, bearing false witness in order to extract money from the flock. Jesus must be rolling over in his grave. Sadly, this isn't the only manner in which AiG shows itself to be a blatant hypocrite concerning issues of copyright infringement. In July of 2002, Scientific American published an article titled 15 Ways to Refute Creationist Nonsense. AiG decided to publish its own poorly written rebuttal, which as it turns out, reproduced the entire Sci-Am article without permission. (And this was a mere 3 days after the Sci-Am article came out, which aside from indicating that AiG didn't put too much thought into it, had the potential to cause financial harm to Sci-Am.) Now, AiG claims that their use of the article falls under the "fair use" provision of copyright law; however, fair use only allows for some of the work to be reproduced for commentary or criticism, not the entire thing, which was Sci-Am's complaint. This is different from a parody in which "fairly extensive use of the original work is permitted ... in order to 'conjure up' the original." (See Copyright & Fair Use by Stanford University Libraries for more.) But when Sci-Am asked them to remove the article contents from the AiG website, AiG responded with an ugly screed accusing Sci-Am of censorship in which they made use of an extended ad hominem claiming that the only reason why Sci-Am objected to having its article reproduced was that it couldn't handle AiG's "devastating rebuttals". And yes, they turned that into an opportunity to beg for money too. So I guess by AiG's own standards, we are to assume that they are guilty of censorship by threatening to sue IIDB, and that the only reason for pursuing this line of action is that they can't handle the "devastating rebuttals" offered by the parodies of their cartoons. Chutzpah aside, one has to wonder if AiG has any real respect for the law, or if they just see it as a club to wield against "the enemy" (their phrase) whenever convenient, but are happy to disobey it as soon as it's to their advantage. Oh, and if this blog entry has been a blessing to you and you wish us to continue our important work, please send money to...