I suppose it was inevitable, but I got a cease-and-desist from Bill Cosby’s legal team for hosting the House of Cosbys videos and the out-of-print “Cosby Talks to Kids about Drugs” album. (View the cease-and-desist PDF.)
I’ve removed the album (even though it’s been out-of-print for as long as I’ve been alive), as that’s within their legal rights.
But I’m not removing House of Cosbys. House of Cosbys is parody, and clearly falls under fair use guidelines. I’m not taking it down, and their legal bullying isn’t going to work. They claim that hosting these videos “violates our client’s rights of publicity as well as other statutory and common laws prohibiting the misappropriation of an individual’s name, voice and likeness and unfair competition.” Sorry, but the First Amendment protects satire and parody of a public figure as free speech. Also, the right of publicity only applies to unauthorized commercial use, and not a work of art or entertainment.
More than anything, this strikes me as a special kind of discrimination against amateur creators on the Internet. Mad Magazine, Saturday Night Live, South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and countless other mainstream media sources have parodied Bill Cosby over the years (see growing list below).
But because it takes so little effort to threaten a small web-based artist (or the blogger who hosts their work), the Net is constantly targeted regardless of just cause. Justin Roiland, creator of House of Cosbys, was forced to remove the videos because he couldn’t risk the possibility of an actual lawsuit. And when Channel 101 decided to take a stand, Cosby’s lawyers targeted their ISP instead, forcing the videos offline. (Read Channel 101’s excellent response.)
But I know my legal standing, and I’m not backing down unless ordered by the court. This is free speech and creative freedom, and even though it’s just one guy’s goofy labor of love, that’s worth fighting for, dammit.
Cosby Parody in the Media
This is hardly the first time Cosby’s been parodied in the mainstream media. If you have other mainstream examples, please post them or email them to me! Scans, recordings, and video clips are highly encouraged.
* Video: Cosby on Family Guy (July 18, 2001)
* Video: Cosby on The Simpsons (WMV, May 13, 2001)
* Video: Cosby on the Simpsons (Quicktime, April 30, 1995)
* Video: Saturday Night Live’s “Celebrity Jeopardy” (May 14, 2005) – Bill Cosby has been parodied on at least nine episodes of SNL by three different cast members: Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, and Kenan Thompson. Any other clips?
* Video: The Boondocks (Episode 11, “Let’s Nab Oprah”)
* Comics: Mad Magazine appearances – Wow, Michael Hunziker compiled a collection of 12 Cosby appearances in Mad from 1967-1998!
* Video: South Park, Episode 210 (“Clubhouses”)
* Video: South Park, Episode 512 (“Here Comes the Neighborhood”)
House of Cosbys:
Watch the original House of Cosbys at any of the sites below. We really need more mirrors, so let me know if you’ve mirrored it!
* CommonFlix (BitTorrent, formatted for iPod)
* EOD.com (thanks, Greg!)
* Watching Paint Dry (thanks, Alek!)
* Stroeck.com (thanks, Michael!)
* Nonstuff.com (thanks, Robert!)
* I’m Just Sayin’ (thanks, Krup!)
* 1hug.com (thanks, David!)
* Panoptican (thanks, Jason!)
* R3V.com (thanks, cls!)
* I Eat Tapes (thanks, David!)
* Kaninka.net (thanks, Páll!)
Stay tuned. I’m calling the EFF and House of Cosbys creator Justin Roiland today.
Update: I was just interviewed by the New York Times for an article set to appear in their Monday business section. Journalist Lia Miller also interviewed Channel 101’s Dan Harmon for the article, but was unable to get a comment from Bill Cosby.
I also spoke to Jason Schultz, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He contacted me directly, providing some great feedback and offering the EFF’s support to help fight this. Their network of legal counsel is extensive and well-versed in cases like these, and the EFF’s powerful activist community will help raise awareness should this go to trial.
No word yet from Justin Roiland, but waiting patiently. Justin, if you’re out there, call or e-mail me! I got in touch with Justin through Myspace. He’s giving me a call on Monday to discuss.
March 5: The New York Times article is out. Nice!
March 7: I spoke to Justin yesterday afternoon. I was relieved to hear he’s not opposed to what I’m doing, though (rightfully so) he’s hesitant to get involved in a lawsuit himself. He’s going to speak to an attorney and get back to me.
Also, no word yet from the Cosby legal team.