Sunday, May 19, 2013

US Forest Service wants to Frack Smokey's Home

As activist/artists, we use art, coupled with a message in hopes of raising awareness about an issue. Sometimes we even use art to tempt arrest in order to amplify the message even more. This is what I would refer to as "Artistic Civil Disobedience".

Much like dropping a banner from the window of a fancy hotel where the Governor is giving a talk, or sneaking into a convention to do a magic trick, we risk arrest to amplify a message. A few weeks ago, an opportunity to take my artistic activism to the next level fell in my lap when the US Forest Service sent me a cease and desist letter in reference to a claim that my art was infringing upon their copyright. This is the equivalent of activist gold. Being threatened with 6 months in jail and a $150K fine is no chump change. This ups the ante in a way. This gives me as the artist/activist some leverage because it shows my commitment to the message when I risk arrest to spread this message. 

Some people might say that because I am selling t-shirts, it somehow diminishes this action. In my opinion, the fact that I am selling merchandise is the exact reason I got the attention of the US Forest Service. This is the civil disobedience inherent in the case. This is the means by which I can use this threat to amplify the message. It's not news worthy without the alleged law breaking.

I say "alleged" because through extensive research and consulting with some of the best lawyers in the country, it is becoming more and more clear to me that I am not actually breaking any law through selling or distributing online free of charge this parody of Smokey Bear. My parody falls squarely within the definition of "Fair Use"  Even if the meme goes so viral that people can never again look at Smokey without thinking "faucet fires" that does not matter if it is indeed a parody as determined by the definition used in legal terms:

  "Again, parody is given a slightly different fair use analysis with regard to the impact on the market. It’s possible that a parody may diminish or even destroy the market value of the original work. That is, the parody may be so good that the public can never take the original work seriously again. Although this may cause a loss of income, it’s not the same type of loss as when an infringer merely appropriates the work. As one judge explained, “The economic effect of a parody with which we are concerned is not its potential to destroy or diminish the market for the original—any bad review can have that effect—but whether it fulfills the demand for the original.” (Fisher v. Dees, 794 F.2d 432 (9th Cir. 1986).)

 The awesome part of this is that I am not actually breaking any law. This often happens in Civil Disobedience cases. We test the unjust laws or the wrongful enforcement of non-existent laws by allegedly breaking them. Their threats are empty threats designed simply to intimidate me. The US Forest Service has probably issued thousands of similar cease and desist letters to people all over the world in regards to Smokey. Not once has the US Forest Service actually sued an individual for copyright infringement. This is clearly an attempt to infringe upon my constitutional rights to free speech.

What sets this case apart from the multitude of C&D's they've sent out is context. I'm an activist and I refused to Cease and Desist. The parodies I created are intended to spread an anti fracking message. The Cease & Desist letter provided me with a huge opportunity to amplify this message. So after consulting with a lawyer, I decided to refuse. Instead, I enlisted the help of a willing attorney who wrote an initial letter (which I posted on a previous blog entry).

After he sent the letters, with his approval, I went public with this case. I made a blog post about it and a press release. I sent the press release out to an extensive list of media contacts. I had spoken with a friend who is the editor for Waging NonViolence on May Day about this case. He got excited about it. He assigned one of their writers to interview me about the case. This article: Forest Service seeks to silence Smokey the Bear over Fracking went viral and was republished by, Truth Out, Alternet, Socialist Worker, Grist, Yes Magazine, FSEEE, Utne, GoGreenNation, Mother Earth News and countless others. Village Voice ran an interview on their blog. On social media Rainforest Action Network, The Other 98%, Seismologik, The Punk Patriot, Josh Fox & Gasland, Shale Shock and many others shared this story. I was careful to frame the press release to focus on the pending decision the US Forest Service is faced with in reference to the Ban on Fracking in question in George Washington National Forest.

The article in Waging Non Violence went viral. Now, if you google "Smokey" and "Fracking" you will see pages of stories about this case. This is exactly what I wanted to happen so that I could help shed a spotlight on the current state of Fracking in the National Forests. This is how we use art as activism. We amplify our message by allegedly breaking laws. How many times have activists used this strategy? Millions I would say.

I initiated this action without the support of a group or organization. I acted alone, somewhat spontaneously to take this calculated risk. Sometimes as activists we are forced to act autonomously without a group. It is during these times that it is most crucial for our communities of activists to stand behind us and support us. I'd like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to those in my community who have shown solidarity with me in this campaign.

Thank You!

this message was not approved by the USDA or the US Forest Service

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Civil Disobedience & the Bear

What if the bears rose up to defend their forest home? 
Protect Whistleblowers. Support the Bears.

The George Washington National Forest covers 960,000 acres in Virginia, with just over 100,000 acres in West Virginia. Water from this area provides drinking water for 4.75 million people downstream. Currently, there is a debate raging over whether the US Forest Service is going to institute a BAN on Fracking for the next 15 years in the George Washington National Forest. They are due to make a decision about it in June. 
Of the 53,000 public comments from around the nation received by the U.S. Forest Service, 95 percent support the ban. Yet the US Forest Service is showing signs of caving to the pressure by Gas & Oil Companies that cant see the forest for the oil.

Secretary of Agriculture at the USDA, Tom Vilsack, oversees the US Forest Service. Please drop him an email at and urge him to go ahead with the Ban on Fracking in the George Washington National Forest. Heck, tell him that we need a Permanent Ban on Fracking in ALL of our National Forests.
They need to protect our natural resources for the sake of all the forest creatures as well as their human friends who depend on access to clean water to continue living!

List of National Forests either currently being leased for Fracking or under threat:

Allegheny National Forest (PA)
George Washington National Forest (WV & VA)
Wayne National Forest (Ohio)
Talladega National Forest (Alabama)
Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest (Colorado)
White River National Forest (Colorado)
The Bridger-Teton National Forest (Wyoming)

The Organic Act of 1897 provided the basis for the US Forest Service: 
It's main mission was established as: Timber production, watershed protection and forest protection.
Essentially, the US Forest Service's role is to manage and protect the forest resources for the people of the US. There is currently an alarming trend across the US of privatizing this publicly owned land.

Interestingly, much of the land which is presently under the stewardship of the US Forest Service was once private land. During the Great Depression, the government offered to buy up private land from people struggling to maintain their families. The govt wanted to stretch the budget they had so as to help as many people as possible, so they only bought the surface rights to the land. They did not purchase the mineral rights to save money and maximize the people they could send aid to.
Now the US Forest Service has jurisdiction over only the surface rights of the public lands. The Bureau of Land Management regulates the mineral rights. 

One solution to protecting the public good would be for the govt to declare eminent domain and to purchase all the mineral rights in order to keep the gas and oil in the ground. That is the best case scenario and really the healthiest choice for the future of our planet. 

From the FSEEE: Forest Service Employees with Environmental Ethics: 
"It is in Utah, however, that the movement to wrest control of public lands has progressed the furthest. Last year, the Transfer of Public Land Act was passed by the Utah legislature and signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert.
Like its brethren rebel states, Utah’s new law demands the federal government “extinguish” title to public lands by the end of 2013. But unlike similar legislation, the Utah law deputizes a newly-created state agency, the “Constitutional Defense Council,” to sue the federal government if the state’s demands are not met.
But the end game is not state ownership of our public lands. It is economic exploitation.
That goal can only be realized by selling off the public’s estate to the highest bidders. The reason is simple. These states simply can’t afford to manage federal lands—and they know it. The lawmakers promoting these bills want their states to be a pass-through for private interests to acquire this invaluable property.
Behind-the-scenes, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a think tank that is funded by corporate industries and promotes “free markets, limited government and constitutional division of powers between the federal and state governments” has drafted model legislation to remove National Forest lands from the federal domain.
ALEC’s corporate advisory council includes major energy companies, such as Exxon-Mobil and Peabody Energy, that believe states would provide greater access than the federal government to timber, minerals, and federal oil, gas and coal reserves.
The biggest pote
ntial payoffs are underground oil and gas reserves, especially the vast deposits made commercially viable with new hydrofracking and horizontal drilling technology. With forty-three percent of U.S. oil reserves located on federal lands, the incentives could not be bigger for corporate America."

read more about this here:
#nocompromise #makemyday

Creative Commons License
Don't Frack Me, Bro by LMNOPI is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

US Forest Service attempts to Suppress 1st Amendment

On April 25th, 2013, I received the following email:

This email was in response to some artwork I made last year which went fairly viral among the 
Anti Fracking Movement:
Upon receiving this letter, I called my friends at the NY Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. They directed me to a helpful person who directed me to Evan Sarzin, a NYC attorney who specializes in copyright law. He was kind enough to compose the following rebuttal letter as a pro bono favor to me because he believes my case has merit.

There was a time when I believed that the Forest Service really cared about the environment. I grew up with Smokey the Bear telling me 
"Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires"
They created this meme to inspire people to care about our Forests.
Well, it worked. I not only care about our Forests, I care about the water, air, soil, plants, animals and human communities which depend on the environment to live and thrive in this world. In the late 80's and 90's I participated in direct actions with Earth First! against the clear cutting of old growth forests. The US Forest Service failed to protect the forests then and now 
I have recently discovered that they want to Frack these same Forests that they ostensibly protect. 

That's right, The USDA Forest Service wants to Frack the Forests.

Read about it here:
 and here:

Considering their current position advocating for Fracking in our National Forests, it comes as little surprise that the USDA Forest Service is choosing to attempt to suppress this artist's 1st Amendment rights.
This fair use parody of Smokey the Bear is 
confronting them with their own cognitive dissonance.
I think it's time that Smokey was liberated from the cage of hypocrisy that the 
US Forest Service keeps him locked up in. 

To the US Forest Service I ask this question:
How can Smokey Bear put out a Forest Fire with Flaming Water??

To their attempt to censor me I say this:
I will not cease nor desist in my 1st Amendment right to engage in Political Speech.
I will continue to promote the protection of our environment.
I will continue to make art about whatever I chose to make art about.
I will not destroy it, delete it nor discontinue to distribute it.

Occupy Smokey 

If you would like to donate money to support a possible lawsuit, please go here:
Legal Support for LMNOPi

Postscript (May 16th, 2013)
I learned yesterday that my 1st Amendment Rights were not threatened, yet, because the US Forest Service didn't actually serve me a cease and desist letter. They hired a corporation to do it for them. Corporations can't violate the constitution by restricting free speech. The US Forest Service basically hired an accounting firm to attempt to intimidate me. I am not intimidated. Bring it on USDA, make my day.

Creative Commons License
Smokes Bear by LMNOPI is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.