In a victory for free speech and political parody, Savitri Durkee, Director of Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, has successfully defended her right to publish a website satirizing the Union Square Partnership (USP) and their efforts to turn the historic Union Square pavilion into an upscale restaurant.
Durkee has settled the lawsuit brought against her by USP so that she may continue to publish the website as part of her campaign to preserve the pavilion as public space for public use.
USP, the oldest Business Improvement District (BID) in New York City, has baffled New Yorkers with their initiative to install a restaurant in an area with the highest density of restaurants and the lowest density of park space in the entire city. The USP is led by Jennifer Falk, former press secretary to Mike Bloomberg, who when she was first asked about the opposition to the restaurant said, “Given my previous position at City Hall, I wouldn’t have felt at home without a controversy.”
Durkee stated the settlement “sends a strong message to quasi-governmental agencies like the USP that stifling legitimate dissent with frivolous lawsuits will cost them money and damage their reputation.”
Looking ahead, Durkee believes “settling this lawsuit means we can get back to work convincing the USP, Councilmember Rosie Mendez, Parks Commisioner Adrian Benepe and Mayor Mike Bloomberg to abandon their plans for an upscale restaurant in the pavilion since no one except the USP’s secretive donors and executive board want it there anyway.”
In July 2008, USP sent Durkee’s Internet service provider a Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice improperly asserting that her parody site infringed USP’s copyright, leading to the shutdown of the site. USP also filed a copyright lawsuit against Durkee and later filed a claim with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) seeking to take control of the parody site’s domain name.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a well known civil liberties defense group working in this case with the law firms of Mayer Brown and Gross & Belsky, LLP, filed a response to USP’s complaint on Durkee’s behalf, pointing out that Durkee’s parody is protected under the First Amendment and fair use doctrine.
Durkee feels “extremely grateful” for the legal team “pushing back against this bully of a BID who seem to have the same expansive sense of proprietary dominion over the World Wide Web as they do over our precious park.”
This month, EFF and the rest of Durkee’s legal team reached a settlement so Durkee may continue publishing the site with the addition of minor disclaimer statements. Durkee will pay no damages to USP.
Durkee’s website is now online again at http://www.weareunionsquare.org and will be updated throughout the pavilion preservation campaign.