POSTED BY: mark cooley | Fri Dec 13th, 2002 1 a.m.

December 13, 2002
Contact: Paul Hardwin:

But companies find it harder to stifle criticism

Two giant companies are struggling to shut down parody websites that
portray them unfavorably, interrupting internet use for thousands in
the process, and filing a lawsuit that pits the formidable legal
department of PR giant Burson-Marsteller against a freshman at
Hampshire College.

The activists behind the fake corporate websites have fought back, and
obtained substantial publicity in the process.

Fake websites have been used by activists before, but
and represent the first time that such websites
have successfully been used to publicize abuses by specific

A December 3 press release originating from one of the fake sites,, explained the "real" reasons that Dow could not take
responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe, which has resulted in an
estimated 20,000 deaths over the years
( "Our prime responsibilities
are to the people who own Dow shares, and to the industry as a whole,"
the release stated. "We cannot do anything for the people of Bhopal."
The fake site immediately received thousands of outraged e-mails

Within hours, the real Dow sent a legal threat to's
upstream provider, Verio, prompting Verio to shut down the fake Dow's
ISP for nearly a day, closing down hundreds of unrelated websites and
bulletin boards in the process.

The fake Dow website quickly resurfaced at an ISP in Australia.

In a comical anticlimax, Dow then used a little-known domain-name rule
to take possession of
(, another move which backfired when
amused journalists wrote articles in newspapers from The New York
Times to The Hindu in India (, and
sympathetic activists responded by cloning and mirroring the site at
many locations, including, and, with a twist, Dow continues to play whack-a-mole
with these sites (at least one ISP has received veiled threats).

Burson-Marsteller, the public relations company that helped to "spin"
Bhopal, has meanwhile sued college student Paul Hardwin
( for putting up a fake Burson-Marsteller
site,, which recounted how the PR
giant helped to downplay the Bhopal disaster. Burson-Marsteller's suit
against Hardwin will be heard next week by the World Intellectual
Property Organization (

Hardwin, unable to afford a lawyer, has composed a dryly humorous
57-page rebuttal to the PR giant's lawsuit
( On page 7,
for instance, the student notes that Burson-Marsteller's "stated goal
is 'to ensure that the perceptions which surround our clients and
influence their stakeholders are consistent with reality.'" Hardwin goes on to assert that his satirical domain is doing precisely that, by publicizing "academic and journalistic materials about
Burson-Marsteller's involvement with and relationship to, for example,
Philip Morris and the National Smoker's Alliance, a consumer front
group designed to create the appearance of public support for
big-tobacco policies; Union Carbide and the deaths of 20,000 people
following the 1984 disaster in Bhopal; and political regimes such as
that of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and more recently Saudi
Arabia following the events of September 11; and to properly associate
them with the relevant Trademark so that they may be understood
accordingly by Internet users."

In response to the suit's claim that "a substantial degree of goodwill
is associated with [the Burson-Marstellar Trademark]" Hardwin offers
much "evidence to the contrary" including "a newspaper headline in
which the Complainant is characterized as 'the Devil.'"

The primary goal of RTMark ( is to publicize
corporate subversion of the democratic process. Just like other
corporations, it achieves its aims by any and all means at its
disposal. RTMark has previously helped to publicize websites against
political parties (, political
figures (, and entities like the World
Trade Organization ( and the World Economic Forum