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Ah yes, our beloved Walmart of the 501c's, our ultimate conglomerate of charity organizations, Autism Speaks, is at it again. You may recall me writing back in January (however few of you who may read this blog) that Autism Speaks threatened to bring charges against a teenage autistic girl for parodying their website:

Kelly, a 14 year-old autistic girl and member of Aspies for Freedom (an autistic rights activist group), felt strongly enough about [neurodiversity] that she started a website to illustrate some of these human rights issues. It parodied the main page of the Autism Speaks  website, implying that while the organization claims to speak for autistics, it's better at ignoring them instead. She called her website, 'NT Speaks'.

The organization threatened to sue Kelly not only for copyright infringement but for donations lost due to this faux-site and one-millionth of supporter decline; all of this, they felt, totaled approximately $90,000. --However, once Autism Speaks found out she was both autistic and a minor, they quickly dropped the threats and in return demanded her site be taken down. She complied.

I'm no lawyer, but at that time I thought (and I still do) that Autism Speaks did have a legal right to threaten a lawsuit since the site seemed to step beyond the accepted bounds of "parody". I was, however, irate about Autism Speaks' reprehensible behavior throughout the entire situation, using big-business scare tactics to achieve their ends.

Now, given all their money and all their power, Autism Speaks can undoubtedly afford some very expensive lawyers. However, given their past and now more recent actions, I can only conclude they must have some very bored lawyers, because all they seem to do is wander around the internet looking for people to threaten.

--And they've done it again. However, this time, legally, it doesn't seem as though they've got a leg to stand on. --Of course, not to in any way do I mean to imply that this stops them from actually getting their way. All they have to do is talk loud and carry a big stick. And with the amount of money that organization takes in they can afford a very big stick indeed.

Anyways, the latest story:

Zachary Lassiter, an autistic man, designed a t-shirt using an online website, Zazzle.com. The t-shirt was meant to illustrate his frustration with the vast and powerful Autism Speaks organization-- a frustration which many, who know better, certainly share.

The shirt read:

In a June 18th blog post, however, Zach informed his readers that he had been notified by Zazzle that the design would be removed for "violation of Zazzle's Copyright policies". Technically, "Autism Speaks" is a trademark, not a copyright because it is not considered a "creative work".

Under point 3c of Zazzle's own User Agreement, it states that:

In using this Site, you agree to not . . .  upload, download, post, email or otherwise transmit any Content that may infringe any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright or other intellectual or proprietary right of any part. By uploading or downloading any Content, you represent and warrant that you have the lawful right to reproduce and distribute such Content and that the Content complies with all applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations and ordinances" (Retrieved 06/22/08).

Zach's use of Autism Speaks' name, a trademark, however is indeed protected under the Fair Use doctrine under United States copyright law and therefore not an infringement of copyright law and therefore not an infringement of Zazzle's User Agreement.

Zazzle.com does however reserve the right to remove any content for any reason they see fit regardless of compliance to the User Agreement:

Upon placing your order, you acknowledge that Zazzle may review your order, and the Content it contains, for adherence to our guidelines and compliance with the terms and conditions set forth in this User Agreement. Without limiting the foregoing, Zazzle and its designees shall have the right to remove any Content that violates the Agreement or is otherwise objectionable to Zazzle. (Retrieved 06/22/08).

Following this notice from Zazzle, Zach responded, inquiring as to whether Autism Speaks had requested the removal or it had been of Zazzle's own accord. He was informed thus:

Thank you for your interest in Zazzle.com, and thank you for publishing products on Zazzle. Unfortunately, we have been contacted by Autism Speaks Inc. and it was requested that these products be removed from Zazzle.com. At the risk of legal action taken against Zazzle and yourself as a contributor of these products, it was decided that it was in the best interest of both parties to have the products removed from the Zazzle Marketplace.

So it seems that, in order to prevent further headaches, Zazzle complied with Autism Speaks "request". Given Autism Speaks' history concerning legal threats, I would imagine "request" is probably polite code for "they said they'd sue us if we didn't comply".

Yes, the Autism Speaks' lawyers are just a little too bored methinks, having nothing better to do than surf the internet all day, drumming up potential lawsuits.

--Personally, I don't half-blame Zazzle; when a huge monster of an organization like Autism Speaks threatens you with a big stick, you run the other way as fast as possible! Had I been the owner of that business, I would have done the same thing.

So what's the big deal???

Freedom of Speech is a very big deal. The internet is one of the last havens for free speech-- one of the ONLY havens for adult autistic people, and our voice gets quashed even here. As autistics, we've dealt with bullies in school, in the workplace, but never before have we been so forcefully silence by the very people, Autism Speaks, who claim to be our voice-- who claim to want to help us.

They want autism cured, eradicated. They pour money into organizations, into research, into lobbying. And provided we, as autistics, simply smile, nod our heads, and say "thank you", we are touted as success stories. But when we disagree, when we speak and say things that contradict the very goals and philosophies Autism Speaks is founded upon, we are threatened and we are silenced. Our vast numbers are included in this 1 in 150 epidemic, but when we call ourselves "autistic" they tell us we're not autistic enough to have the right to speak out and advocate for ourselves and for others.

I'm sure most, if not all, of the people who will read this blog already know and agree with everything I've said. Preaching to the choir, I'm sure. But for anyone reading this to whom this darker side of Autism Speaks is new and as yet unfamiliar, I ask you to please think hard the next time you consider donating, please think of what you're actually walking for and supporting, please think of the associations and the bedfellows you choose to keep. Because there are far better ways to help autistic people than by supporting an organization which so actively discriminates against them.


( 5 comments — Comments? )
Jun. 23rd, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
Ivar T /erkolos 's reply
Great post!

Think I might create a list of posts who've written about this on AFF.
Jun. 23rd, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Ivar T /erkolos 's reply
Thanks! :)

Yeah, that's a great idea; keep all the commentary together.

Edited at 2008-06-24 03:57 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 26th, 2008 11:52 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, because it's not Nazis suggesting it, nobody but us seems to think of it as such. Eugenics in the name of charity is acceptable, no?

Aug. 7th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
Anyone wanting to hear a funny commentary on Autism Speaks ought to listen to this free audio podcast where a 13 year old boy with Asperger Syndrome SPEAKS FREELY about Autism Speaks, and what he has to say is NOT good:

"Special Feature Interview with Douglas Giesel and An Update Interview with Lewis Schofield"

It can be found at www.mic.mypodcast.com

His commentary comes near the end.

Spread the podcast around so that more people hear the word about how bad Autism Speaks really can be.
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( 5 comments — Comments? )