from the that's how you do it dept
The Popehat signal went up and it was for a good cause (even if it’s ridiculous that it was needed). The satirical site “Takoma Torch,” which is an attempt at being a sort of local The Onion for a suburb outside of DC, posted an article making light of the nearby town of Olney, Maryland and its new Cal Ripken Collegiate League baseball team. Playing off of the recent drama regarding the company OnlyFans, Takoma Torch’s Eric Saul wrote up an amusing article about “OlneyFans.” You can click through to read the story, but the opening gives you the gist:
Within hours of going live, “OlneyFans,” the website for Upper Montgomery County’s new Cal Ripken Collegiate League baseball team, crashed this week due to unusually high web traffic.
“We knew that starting a new baseball team in Olney would be popular, especially with males between the ages of 13 and 55,” said marketing director Brock Jacobs. “But when our site registration exceeded the entire population of Maryland after announcing a free footlong on opening day against Bethesda Big Train, we realized our huge oversight.”
There are a few more such paragraphs and it’s somewhat amusing. Except, apparently, to the very, very foolish people who run the Olney Community Baseball Team who found someone who is apparently a real lawyer, Andrew Schwartz, to write one of the dumbest threat letters we’ve seen in a while. Schwartz, who specializes in business law, employment law, and real estate law seems to know fuck all about how free speech works.
The letter has some real whoppers in there.
Olney Baseball has learned that The Takoma Torch has circulated communications that use the name, image, or likeness of Olney Baseball in a false, misleading, and/or defamatory manner. For instance, on September 8, 2021, The Takoma Torch published an article entitled “OlneyFans Website for MoCo’s New Baseball Team Crashes Due to Unusually High Traffic” (the “Article”). No one from or on behalf of Olney Baseball was contacted, interviewed, or consulted about the Article. The Article contains numerous false and misleading statements, and it misrepresents the Olney Baseball organization. For instance, and not by way of limitation, Olney Baseball: (i) does not have a website; (ii) the individuals purportedly quoted in the Article have no relationship with Olney Baseball and they are not in any way affiliated with Olney Baseball; (iii) the individuals quoted in the Article have no authority to comment or speak on behalf of Olney Baseball; and (iv) the Article references a purported logo for Olney Baseball; however, Olney Baseball does not have any logo at this time.
Talk about missing the joke. The letter goes on to talk about all the time and money they’ve wasted investigating this matter and demanding The Takoma Torch cease and desist “all activities, including, but not limited to, publication, dissemination, distribution, sharing, posting and all use of or reference to the Olney Baseball name, image, and likeness in connection with any article, post, communication, and/or comment in whatever medium and in any forum.” They also demand the article be taken down and all the usual legal mumbo jumbo designed to scare people.
Thankfully, the Takoma Torch and Eric Saul seem to know enough not to be intimidated, and made public their response. It’s too good.
— The Takoma Torch???????? (@TakomaTorch) September 13, 2021
Thank you for your recent submission of a satirical legal threat. Even though our writing team found it to be extremely hilarious, unfortunately, it did not technically meet our qualifications of containing fewer than 300 words and have a punchy headline, so we will not accept it at this time. Perhaps you could have used “Olney Makes History with First Baseball Team to Lack a Sense of Humor,” or even “Lawyers Has Ball to Make Baseless Claims Against Satirical Baseball Story.” Either one of these headlines would have been acceptable.
There’s more, but the best part, by far, is the signoff.
Why, yes, that is a “cc: Barbara Streisand” which caused half the internet to alert me to it (Psst: Eric, for future reference, her name is now actually Barbra without the extra “a”).
And, given how often I’ve seen this type story come up, it appears that the Streisand Effect is alive and well. Saul has said his traffic went up more than 10x, to the point that his hosting company even alerted him that his traffic was “booming.”
Of course, some of the backstory behind all of this makes it even crazier. According to the Washingtonian, Eric Saul of the Takoma Torch knows the owner of the baseball team and had even done him favors in the past:
Saul said he was bewildered by the letter. For starters, he says, “The guy suing me is my friend!” Indeed, Jeff Schwaber, the managing partner at Stein Sperling, confirms that Saul and Tony Korson, the CEO of Koa Sports, an organization behind the team, have coached baseball together and that Saul designed the interior of Koa Sports’ facility for free. Korson called Saul about the article on Friday, Saul says, and he agreed to remove the original graphic for the story, which showed an artist’s rendering of the team’s potential field, and replace it with an aerial photo. “I thought that was the end of it,” he says.
Some thanks he gets for designing the interior of their facility for free!
Incredibly, rather than backing down, the lawyers at Stein Sperling seem to be doubling down. Again from the Washingtonian:
Schwaber says the problem, from his client’s point of view, is that the baseball team is a new organization whose name is being “deliberately confused” with a site known for adult content. But Takoma Torch is clearly a humor publication, I said. Doesn’t the precedent in the Supreme Court case Hustler Magazine, Inc., v. Falwell—which found that the First Amendment protected even offensive speech as long as “that speech could not reasonably have been interpreted as stating actual facts”—protect this sort of joke?
“Look, there is a lot of humor that’s protected speech,” Schwaber replied. “But there are also lines that get crossed.” For instance, he says, Washingtonian could not write an article that accused Schwaber of molesting children and be protected by labeling it satire.
Um. That’s just dumb, Jeff. That’s not how any of this works. This did not cross the line and it was clearly satire. Schwaber kept on going and said even more stupid stuff to the Washington Post:
“Of course we support the First Amendment and the right of the Takoma Torch or anyone else to use satire as a medium,” wrote Stein Sperling’s Jeffrey M. Schwaber in an email.
No you don’t, Jeff. You sent him a fucking cease-and-desist that threatens litigation for his satire. So you do not support the 1st Amendment.
“Our concern is that our client has worked very hard to create an opportunity to bring a community oriented, children and family friendly baseball team to Olney, and now is faced with the challenges posed by having their new brand deliberately confused with an exploitative site filled with graphic and explicit content.”
No one is confusing anything, dude. Except you. Everyone got the humor. Except you. Either way, the Streisand Effect has claimed another victim.
Update: And… not surprisingly, it appears that the lawyers and the Olney baseball team realized that at some point you stop digging, and have agreed not to pursue legal action here:
1) I am happy to confirm that the OlneyFans drama has been resolved entirely in the Torch’s favor! Thanks to everyone for your support, but a few extra special thanks are in order…
— The Takoma Torch???????? (@TakomaTorch) September 15, 2021