Digital Rights Group Supports Twitter Parodist

     (CN) – Twitter parody accounts should be granted First Amendment protection, the Electronic Frontier Foundation told a Michigan appeals court in a defamation case brought by a self-proclaimed “badass” lawyer.
     Todd Levitt, an attorney in central Michigan, markets himself as a “badass” lawyer. One of his YouTube videos shows him mountain biking and asking the viewer, “I’m out here mountain biking in 90 degree weather. What’s your lawyer doing?”
     He sued Zachary Felton last year for creating a Twitter account named Todd Levitt 2.0, using the handle @levittlawyer and mocking Levitt’s marketing strategy.
     @levittlawyer describes itself as “A badass parody on our favorite lawyer,” and the account’s profile picture is an actual picture of Levitt.
     Levitt’s own personal account was @levittlaw, but he deleted it after suing Felton for defamation, libel, false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
     The mock Twitter account, which has 286 followers, tweets satirical comments such as “Partying = Defense clients. Defense clients = Income. If I endorse partying, will my income grow? It’s like a ponzi scheme for lawyers!” and “Tonight: free rides, legal advice, and Todd-tees in the new #badass minivan!!”
     Felton’s tweets also indicate he received numerous threats from Levitt’s personal account, which have now been deleted. The parody account tweeted: “Tweeting ‘criminal investigation’ at someone is my favorite intimidation method. Bonus points to my #badass followers that tweet me support.”
     @levittlawyer also posted a number of tweets reminding readers that it was a parody of the real Levitt.
     Isabella County, Mich. judge Paul Chamberlain dismissed Levitt’s complaint in February as a parody protected under the First Amendment.
     “The tweets were meant to ridicule and satirize plaintiff’s social media presence in a humorous way,” Chamberlain wrote. “Whether defendant succeeded in creating a humorous parody is irrelevant for the purposes of the First Amendment. It is clear that Todd Levitt 2.0 cannot reasonably be interpreted as anything other than a parody account.” (Emphasis in original.)
     Levitt’s appeal of Chamberlain’s ruling is pending before a Michigan appeals court. Last week, digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case in support of Felton.
     “Twitter is a common medium for parody,” EFF’s brief states. The group says the trial court correctly ruled that Felton’s Twitter account is a clear parody and asked the appeals court to uphold that ruling.
     Four separate parodies of @realDonaldTrump have sprung up to mock Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including @TheFakeTrump, @AKADonalTrump, @TheFckinDonald, and @FkDonaldTrump.
     Other popular fake Twitter accounts include @notzuckerberg, parodying Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg, @TomHankThatsMe, @fakechucknorris, and @BillMurray.
     “The ‘care[ful] and pruden[t]’ thing to do when reading a ridiculous 140-character message would be to take just a few seconds to look at the Twitter feed from which it came. Indeed, Twitter makes checking the source extremely easy,” according to EFF’s brief.
     In a statement, the nonprofit called Levitt’s position “simply ridiculous.”
     “Even when a message is retweeted by a user not associated with the parody account, it is incredibly easy to access the account of the original tweeter and to thus view the tweet in context,” EFF said. “The fact of retweeting should therefore in no way impact the court’s analysis.”

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