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Judge Tosses Suit Against Pranksters Who Issued Fake Press Release

Posted May 10, 2011 8:26 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal judge has tossed a cybersquatting suit filed by Koch Industries against pranksters who issued a fake online press release claiming the company had changed its stance on global warming.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball of Utah ruled (PDF) against Koch in a decision seen as an important test of First Amendment protections for anonymous speech, Politico reports.

The press release, posted on a Web address similar to the one used by Koch Industries, had claimed the conservative-leaning company was cutting off its support for groups opposing global-warming claims.

Kimball barred Koch Industries from disclosing the names of the pranksters that had been revealed in earlier subpoenas, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. He dismissed all of the company’s causes of action, including claims for trademark infringement, cybersquatting and unfair competition.

Those causes of action do not apply to an act that is political, rather than commercial, in nature, Kimball said. He also tossed a claim that the environmental pranksters had violated the terms and conditions of Koch's website. "If Koch’s legal theory is correct, then any violation of its terms of use—that is, any use of its website’s content of which Koch does not approve—could expose a political critic to criminal prosecution," Kimball wrote.

Public Citizen defended the pranksters, part of a group called Youth for Climate Change. “This important precedent will prevent future lawsuits aimed at stifling political speech,” Public Citizen said on its website.

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