SXSW accused of using copyright, trademark claims to suppress criticism of its ties to the military weapons industry

SXSW accused of using copyright, trademark claims to suppress criticism of its ties to the military weapons industry

South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual conference and music festival in Austin, is facing backlash after it was revealed that the popular event has ties to arms manufacturers that supply weapons to Israel.

When news about the event’s Israel ties broke headlines, SXSW did not respond directly to the claims. Instead, its organizers started waging war on critics using copyright and trademark claims to try to suppress their speech.

SXSW is reportedly unleashing legal hell against Austin for Palestine Coalition, a local advocacy group that is organizing protests against SXSW through social media using an altered version of the SXSW logo.

The altered logo being used by Austin for Palestine Coalition features jets stained with blood and other images that mimic the event’s official logo, but that are juxtaposed with symbols like bombs and bleeding doves to highlight the innocents in Gaza that are being slaughtered amid Israel’s war on Hamas.

Rather than make any kind of statement about Austin for Palestine Coalition’s point, SXSW instead took the legal route by sending a cease-and-desist letter to the advocacy group claiming trademark and copyright infringement while demanding the removal of all posts.

Instagram got involved as well, issuing a notice to Austin for Palestine Coalition that a claim was filed on their posts.

(Related: Remember back in 2018 when Steven Crowder crashed SXSW’s “gender fluid” panel by self-identifying as a computer man, complete with “beep, beep” noises?)

EFF says no copyright infringement took place

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which evaluates cases like these and has taken on this particular one, SXSW’s copyright infringement claims against Austin for Palestine Coalition are baseless.

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“Fundamental elements like their arrow logo do not qualify for copyright protection. Even if SXSW’s allegations targeted the group’s adaptation of their promotional style, such mimicry is arguably not eligible for copyright protection,” EFF said.

EFF sent a letter to SXSW explaining that the event’s allegations are “groundless,” adding that SXSW needs to “immediately retract the claim you lodged with Instagram and any you have submitted elsewhere.”

“The graphics identified in your claims were created by Austin for Palestine as an act of political protest aimed at SXSW – expression that lies at the very heart of the First Amendment,” EFF added.

“Austin for Palestine’s political message is conveyed in part through parody of SXSW’s marketing materials, a mode of expression that Congress and the courts have been careful to protect from overzealous copyright and trademark enforcement.”

The EFF letter goes on to explain to SXSW that its trademark claim “fails at the threshold level” because the Lanham Act strictly regulates commercial speech, “not pure political expression” which is what Austin for Palestine Coalition is doing.

“Even if the Lanham Act did apply here, use of a trademark is not infringing unless it is likely to confuse consumers. Your February 23 email does not explain the basis for your trademark allegations, but we will assume for purposes of this letter that they refer to Austin for Palestine’s parodies of SXSW’s arrow logo …”

“No reasonable consumer would interpret Austin for Palestine’s renditions of the arrow logo – which add fighter jets and details evoking of blood splatter – as indicating that SXSW produced, sponsored, or endorsed graphics criticizing its own business practices. Indeed, courts readily recognize that successful parodies

carry little risk of consumer confusion. Without a likelihood of consumer confusion, there is no infringement.”

EFF emphasized once again in its letter that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the use of trademarks “in expressive works so long as the use of the mark is relevant to the work and not explicitly misleading.”

The latest news about the establishment’s assault on free speech can be found at

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