The press secretary for Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) on Wednesday sent an unreal “cease and desist” order to the creator of a parody website poking fun at the gun-toting, QAnon-sympathizing congresswoman, threatening further legal action if it isn’t taken down.
The parody website is amusingly light touch with its early-aughts blogosphere era simplicity in its criticism of the lawmaker. The homepage features a photo of Boebert, smiling below the label: “RACIST, QANON SYMPATHIZER” and includes blogposts about the lawmaker’s past arrest record, her cringey “short-lived” modeling career and more serious matters, like her past racist remarks about Mexicans.
The tone is similar to a simpler-times Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) spoof website: TED CRUZ FOR HUMAN PRESIDENT.
Toby Morton, a comedy writer, tweeted on Wednesday that Jake Settle, who serves as the press secretary for Boebert, emailed him to threaten “further action” if the parody website isn’t removed.
This is Jake Settle. Jake is the Press Secretary for @laurenboebert. Lauren told Jake to use his government email to send me a cease and desist order to take down my website, https://t.co/zjr5H9soIR. Jake is not a lawyer. Jake is an idiot. pic.twitter.com/mP6nEJfLF1
— Toby Morton (@tobymorton) July 14, 2021
Morton also shared a screenshot of the email he received from Settle, which claims that the website violated “copyrighted property of the U.S. Federal Government.”
“They are property of the office of Congressman Lauren Boebert, and use of them is unauthorized and illegal,” Settle wrote to Morton. “Additionally, the entire website is a defamatory impersonation, and it goes against relevant terms of service and U.S. law. Please remove it immediately or face further action.”
Settle did not list out what U.S. laws had been violated.
— Toby Morton (@tobymorton) July 14, 2021
TPM reached out to Morton and Settle for comment.
Chris Sprigman, professor of copyright law at New York University, sees right through Settle’s absurd claim that Morton’s parody website is a violation of copyright laws.
“That is actually probably the thing you don’t want to say because works of the government are not covered by copyright,” Sprigman said. “That’s right in the copyright statute. That is Section 105 of the Copyright Act that says that works of the U.S. government don’t receive copyright protections.”
Sprigman, however, brought up that if the parody website uses photos that are not the works of the official U.S. government, but were taken by a separate entity such as Boebert’s campaign, for example, there could be copyright issues.
But even with copyrighted photos taken from separate entities, the fair use provisions in copyright law could provide protections for creators who parody lawmakers.
“Courts have been quite good in protecting parody especially parodies like this that have a political twist, that are better that are aimed at a public official,” Sprigman said.
Therefore, it doesn’t strike Sprigman that Boebert’s cease and desist threat is “the most promising covering case.”
“I think the way a court would likely see it is as a bid to shut down critique,” Sprigman said.
Sprigman reiterated that if Boebert took the parody website creator to court, there’s a “pretty good chance” that Morton would have fair use provisions on his side — and that Boebert would incur “painful” legal fees.
“If it’s found to be fair use, there’s a chance that Rep. Boebert would be required to pay the lawyers fees of the other side, which would be painful, because that could be a lot of money,” Sprigman said. “The problem here, of course, is that the guy who runs parody website is going to be hard pressed to defend himself. But, you know, given the political nature there will be people willing to help this guy out. That’s what I would expect. And so, you know, if they file a copyright lawsuit, they’re kind of playing with fire, but we’ll see.”
If anything, Sprigman sees a potential copyright lawsuit waged against the parody creator as just bringing attention to the website that mockingly outlines why the congresswoman actually shouldn’t be in Congress.
“If she wants people to understand more comprehensively, why she shouldn’t be in Congress representing the citizens of the United States citizens of Colorado, she can do that by drawing attention to this website,” he said. “So, you know, just on a practical level, I’m not sure why she’d want to do that.”