Friends: the Mattel lawyers are heating up to the Barbie issue, and it's important to start getting some mirrors of the Distorted Barbie site up and running before we're asked to take ours down. The DNA of this meme is encoded within itself: if you choose to mirror the site, it's important that you also host the downloadable .tar and .zip files so we can be assured that multiple copies are always floating around out there. If you simply link to the existing archives and we have to remove them, the meme will die. If you don't know what we're talking about, see below or read the ongoing chronicle at The Daily Barbie:

Feel free to forward this message on to various individuals and lists, but please do what you can to cover the origins of this message -- strip out the original sender's name, and if you mirror the site, include your own URL at the bottom in place of the one given.

Fighting corporate censorship with a meme

Artist Mark Napier is the author and creator of The Distorted Barbie, a web-based exploration in words and images of the impact Barbie and all her baggage have had on our bodies and culture. The site is a poetic and potent piece of Internet art.

While Napier's site has been online for quite a while, it's only recently attracted the attention of Mattel, Inc., who have issued a cease and desist notice -- they want the site taken down by October 22, 1997 [Note: this date has passed, and Napier re-posted the site with heavily distorted versions, renaming the site The Distorted Barblie. Mattel lawyers are still not satisfied]. Interestingly enough, Mattel's lawyers contacted Napier's Internet provider before they contacted Napier himself. Holding ISPs responsible for the content their users post is no different than it would be if telephone companies were held responsible for conversations held by their users -- a patently ridiculous notion (and one that was stricken down in the early days of the telephone but unfortunately still carries currency on the Internet). However, lawyers know that ISPs have the power to pull the plug on individual users, so there's a better chance they'll gain compliance by threatening the ISP than by threatening individuals.

Napier's site is neither pornographic, violent, nor hateful, though it does include some Barbie nudity. Under current U.S. law, the site is completely legal, but Mattel is not happy. Mattel has expensive lawyers. Expensive lawyers almost always win, and few individuals have the energy or resources to do battle with them. Therefore, Mattel will easily be able to force Napier to remove the site on the basis of spurious claims that the site could damage their business, which, as the lawyers brag ( ) has made billions of dollars since Barbie was born.

It's all about trademark law, which draws capricious lines between acceptable and unacceptable usage of brand identies in parody and artwork (did Brillo sue Warhol?) No reasonable person could assert that Napier's site is going to affect Mattel's business, or even measurably dent the sale of Barbie dolls. Barbie is a molecule of the air Americans breathe.

What we have here is the effective censorship of a fine artist. This censorhip is being conducted not by the government, but by a mega-corporation hunting mosquitos with an elephant gun. By any normal measure, Napier's site would qualify as simple free expression. Mattel's money changes all that.

While Napier has decided not to fight the Mattel request as an individual, there's a much more effective technique we can use to drive Mattel lawyers crazy: turn the Distorted Barbie site into a free-travelling meme. Place copies of the site all over the net, then sit back and wait for Mattel to find them. When the company asks us to cease and desist, we will. But by that time, dozens more copies of the site will have sprung up elsewhere to take its place. The lawyers' bogus squirrel hunt will turn into an endless, crazy-making pursuit of a target that multiplies exponentially by digital mitosis. Eventually, they'll give up and realize that the Internet is not a very good place to try and squelch free expression.

One such replica of The Distorted Barbie can be found at

this address

If you have available space on your Web server, consider downloading and installing a mirror of the site in .zip or .tar format from

this address

Please feel free to redistribute both the site and this message, replacing the sender's name and email address, and replacing the mirror addresses above with your own. If you choose to mirror the site, be sure and mirror the downloadable archives as well!


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