EFF Defends Twitter Parodies

Published: September 21, 2015 11:14 PM /


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The EFF filed a brief with a Michigan appeals court, defending the right of Twitter users to create parody accounts. The dispute began when Zach Felton created the Twitter account Todd Levitt 2.0. Todd Levitt is a self-identified Badass Lawyer, and the account makes fun of his marketing style. Parody accounts are not at all uncommon on Twitter, and in fact they are too numerous to count. Because of how numerous parody account are, this case could have serious implications for free speech on the Internet.

Levitt filed a lawsuit against Felton for defamation, libel, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other claims. The Michigan court granted a motion for summary disposition, and ruled that the Twitter account was a parody protected by the First Amendment. If it was possible for the account to be reasonably be mistaken for Levitt's own account, he may have had a case. However, the account is clearly marked as being a parody, precluding the possibility anyone could mistake tweets from the account as coming from Levitt.

Levitt has appealed the case, arguing that Twitter parody accounts should be treated differently than other parodies, due to the retweet function. He argues that, if other users retweet messages originally tweeted by the parody account, it may not be obvious to readers that the messages were intended as a parody. They may mistake it for tweets originating from Levitt.

The EFF argues that there is no legal precedent for treating Twitter accounts differently from any other parodies. They also argue that it is very easy for users to find the original source of a retweeted message and view it in context. For this reason, the EFF believes that the retweet function should not impact the court's judgment, because it does not prevent users from realizing the tweets are meant as a parody.

Should Twitter parody accounts be considered free speech? Leave your comments below.

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I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.