A lawsuit against a group of anonymous environmentalists who created a satirical press release claiming that Koch Industries would help fight climate change was dismissed Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball.
The anonymous environmentalists known as Youth for Climate Truth were defended by the Public Citizen Litigation Group, who said subpoenas associated with the lawsuit violated the First Amendment rights to anonymous speech.
"We're gratified that the court affirmed our clients' First Amendment right to engage in anonymous political speech and rejected Koch's baseless legal theories," said Deepak Gupta, one of the Public Citizen attorneys defending the activists. "This lawsuit was nothing but a well-financed attempt by Koch to bully its political opponents into submission. The court was right to stop this lawsuit in its tracks."
In stark contrast to the viewpoints usually expressed by either of the Koch brothers, the fake press release announced that the company would "restructure its support for organizations that undertake climate change research and advocacy" and stop funding groups "whose positions on climate change could jeopardize America’s continued global competitiveness."
The press release was emailed to a number of news organizations and included a link to www.kochinc.com, which looked similar to the company's actual website.
Koch Industries brought the lawsuit, alleging that the fake press release was a trademark infringement, cybersquatting, unfair competition and a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The company sought to identify the activists by sending subpoenas to Bluehost and FastDomain, which hosted and registered the website.
A number of news organizations identified the press release and related website as a hoax, including New York Times, The Economist, and The Hill. According to Judge Kimball, there was no evidence that any media organization was fooled by the fake statement.
Koch claimed the lawsuit against the anonymous environmentalists was not meant to silence critics of the company.
"This lawsuit was filed because the integrity of our computer systems and our valuable intellectual property was compromised and used without permission, in violation of the terms of service and federal law," the company said in a statement.
Judge Kimball agreed to dismiss [PDF] the lawsuit, noting that the fake press release was political speech protected by the First Amendment, not unprotected commercial speech related to the goods and services of Koch Industries. He also ruled that the use of Koch Industries trademark constituted a "bona fide noncommercial or fair use" due to the lack of a profit motive.