I Smell Legal Problems
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But what the hell do you call it when 50 Shekel’s friends at Jews for Jesus hijack your website’s name, logo and format and launch their own site, truejewschool.com? Oh, wait, I think it’s called “trademark infringement.”
I’m sorry I dissed your music and made you want to kill yourself and take Jesus into your heart. I think I’ve already said that.
But, please don’t make me sue you. For your own sake, get over it.
*** UPDATE ***
The other night I was hanging out in Kikar Tziyon, waiting for CK and Laya, when this dati (Orthodox) guy frantically approached me and asked if he could use my cellphone. When I asked him what the trouble was, he explained that there was a missionary a few yards from us, proselytizing. He wanted to call an anti-missionary task force to come and hassle the guy. I explained to him that while I thought that missionizing was reprehensible, particularly in Israel — a state born out of the Jewish determination to be free from Christian and Muslim oppression — that he had a right to free speech. He isn’t forcing anyone to listen, nor to accept what he has to say, and anyone weak-willed, ignorant and foolish enough to buy into it — well, that’s on them. Each individual is responsible for their own actions. If they’re truly that thick and gullible, either blame Chabad for not getting to them first, or blame the nominal Jewish world for being so uninviting, or worse yet, alienating.
I’ve taken this position for a few reasons. The first is that, as Reb Chomsky says, “If you believe in freedom of speech, that means you believe in freedom of speech precisely for views you despise. Otherwise you’re not in favor of freedom of speech.” The second is a result of the conclusions I’ve drawn from my encounter with a missionary at the Metalist Festival in Palmakhim. The manner in which the Israeli youth he was proselytizing to responded to him gave me extraodinary confidence in Jewish youth to counter the arguments of missionaries. They don’t need folks to stand up for them. They’re critically-minded and well-informed enough that they’re more than capable of doing so on their own. Finally, I’m compelled to consider the effect of Abe Foxman and the ADL in countering antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and other individuals and organizations of their ilk, such as Alan Dershowitz who unsuccesfully campaigned to ban Norman Finkelstein’s latest work, Beyond Chutzpah. By considering antisemitism, Holocaust denial, anti-Zionism and missionizing important enough to protest and even censor, we affirm their value as something worth taking seriously, and even help give them the status of “a truth so dangerous,” that it must never reach the public’s eyes nor ears — thus making them all the more compelling. As such, some folks advised me to simply ignore this incident. No one would even know about the site, suggested Harry, if I didn’t blog it myself. (Tell that to Gothamist.)
Thus, in dealing with this particular situation, I’m conflicted. I am no fan of copyright, trademark, or intellectual property in general. Some might recall my run-in with Teenage Millionaire for my parody of their “Jesus Is My Homeboy” t-shirts, where I argue that Jesus wouldn’t sue, as Teenage Millionaire threatened to do. However, I do see a difference between parodying a single piece of merchandise and outright coopting an entire brand, along with its logo and color scheme, while operating in the same market as that brand. When it’s done with the intention of waging a valid critique — and particularly when it’s tongue-in-cheek — such as Jewlicious’s Jewschool parody, I don’t find it troubling at all. When it’s done, as it is in this case, as a means not to criticize necessarily, but to missionize, it’s much more problematic.
Jews for Jesus isn’t a Jewish initiative. It is not, as some people have remarked, simply Jews who think Jesus is the Messiah. The organization is primarily bankrolled by various evangelical groups, such as Baptist churches and Assemblies of God ministries (the same folks we call “Christian Zionists,” whereas they are some of the Zionist movement’s biggest allies and financial supporters). In their mission statement, the Assemblies of God state that they are “committed to making ‘disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything’ that Jesus Christ commanded.” Their agenda is to convert all people to Christian worship, and see Jews as a primary target.
This philosophy de facto asserts that Jews are misled, that their religious beliefs are “wrong,” and that they can not and should not be left alone to believe and worship as they see fit. It is an inherently antisemitic doctrine and particularly offensive as it shields itself behind the tyranny of good intentions: “We do it because we care about your souls.” Take the Mormons, for example, who have gone so far as to baptize Holocaust victims in their graves — something which, in Jewish law, constitutes a desecration of their gravesites, but which is ultimately seen as a furtherance of the Final Solution: The elimination of the Jewish people. It is a double-kick in the teeth to the victims of Hitler’s attrocities. Yet the Mormons see themselves as trying to help us poor, ignorant Jews who “missed the bus” and rejected the Messiah. How thoughtful!
Jews for Jesus is even more odious and outrageous, because it coopts Judaism in order to destroy Judaism. Bad enough we have Madonna’s commodification of our culture to contend with. Now we need Christians telling us we’re not authentically Jewish? The cooptation of Jewschool is a perfect example of this: Jews for Jesus taking something organically and authentically Jewish, sloppily inserting their Yeshua crap into it and calling it “truer” than the original. It’s a total affront.
Look, freedom of speech is a fundamental human right which most certainly cannot and should not be challenged, as its “pros” most certainly outweigh its “cons.” As such, Jews for Jesus are free to proselytize everywhere, from subways to mikvahs (ritual baths), using their devious interpretations of scripture to “prove” to the unwitting and uninformed that Jesus is the Messiah. They target those who have sorely lacked meaningful religious experience, giving them a glimpse of what a positive Jewish community could look like were they only offered the chance. Jews who fall for the Jews for Jesus shtick are usually those who have not had fulfilling Jewish experiences, and are therefore more open to alternatives. It is only because these individuals feel unwelcome in their communities and dissatisfied with their Jewish experiences, that they seek fulfillment elsewhere. Jews for Jesus’ success, then, should be a wake-up call to the Jewish establishment to examine its failure in providing substantiative communal experiences.
That’s why I believe the ultimate answer to Jews for Jesus is to create more open, inclusive, and engaging Jewish communities. As one person I consulted on this matter states, “The answer to bad speech is more speech.” And I wholly agree. In terms of censorship, this is why, rather than signing Steven Weinstock’s petition to have Jew Watch removed from Google, I launched the Jooglebomb instead. It is for this reason that I refuse to compromise the value of free speech in order to combat these views and practices, and so I do not wish to file legal proceedings against the individuals responsible for this site. I would rather invest my energy in creating a more welcoming and fulfilling Jewish community, rendering such “spiritual competitors” irrelevant.
However, there’s another matter in play here, on which I am compelled to act: If I do not issue (at the very least) a nastygram, I will be seen as to be abandoning my trademark in the eyes of U.S. copyright law, thus giving way to everyone and anyone who so chooses to coopt the Jewschool brand and its notoriety to push whatever they’re hawking — be it Christianity or the bankrupted affects of mainstream Judaism. With Jewschool in the press every couple of weeks, and with all the individuals whose names are attached to this site, I can not allow the possibility let alone the “likelihood of confusion” to create the impression that I nor anyone associated with Jewschool support the views promulgated by those who steal our identity.
So I reiterate my request to Aviad Cohen and friends: Please, don’t make me sue you. I really, really, really don’t want to, but I really will have to. My hands are bound. Don’t blame me. Blame stupid, unintelligible copyright laws.
Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing informs me:
Abandonment of trademark is trotted out by lawyers all the time, but in practice, trademarks that are still used by their creators are practically never treated as abandoned in the US and the rest of the West. Hoover, Kleenex, Google — all these are routinely used without permission, in a generic sense, and no lawyer would seiously argue that Bissel could ship a Bissel “hoover” and not get sued. The last major trademark to be taken away from a commercial actor (barring German trademarks expropriated during the war) who was making use of it was “cola” in the early 20th century, which Coke sued Pepsi over.
You don’t lose your right to sue people who use your marks deceptively under common law or black-letter law. What you get is an infinitesimally increased risk that someone might violate your trademark and when you sue, the court will find that because in this instance you failed to sue, that an unsophisticated member of the public had concluded that your marks were not distinctive indicators of your company’s goods and services.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of an “unsophisticated consumer” who reads your site who encounters the J for J site. Will she assume that you must have endorsed the J for J’s position and offered them a license? If so, you’ve got a trademark claim: the J for Js are appropriating your goodwill to market their services. If not, you’ve got no claim and you bear no risk by failing to threaten them with litigation.
That being the case, meh. Aviad, you are lame and obsessive. “True” Jews know the difference between Moshiach (the Messiah) and avodah zarah (idolatry). TrueJewschool is FalsehoodForFools. Hell, I’m amused that we’ve inspire you to invest so much energy, but holy crap—stop martyring yourself. All we said was that you’re a corny rapper. You’d think we killed your lord or something.
*** UPDATE ***
TrueJewschool has changed its logo.
The part I find most ironic about all of this is that 50 Shekel has chosen Jewschool as his windmill at which to tilt. The reason we criticized Shekel to begin with was because he was a darling of the nominal, mainstream Jewish world. The guy got more press and more gigs than hundreds of artists with more talent and better acts — folks who don’t embody the demeaning stereotypes and arrogant ethnocentrism at the core of Shekel’s act. Somehow Shekel has come to see us as the mainstream Jewish world which rejected him, a now martyred Messiah in his own imagination. But the Jewish mainstream didn’t reject him. A brief glance at his press page proves that.
Jewschool’s not the mainstream. We’re the outsiders who have been rejected by the mainstream as well, and who have, in turn, rejected the mainstream itself. Our critique of Shekel was part of that critique. It’s simply ridiculous that he would use us to martyr himself. It stands reality on its head.
But well, that’s his whole game. This is another one of Shekel’s “brilliant” publicity stunts. And I guess I knew that getting into this. But now, after giving it some thought, I’ve decided this will be my final mention of Aviad Cohen aka 50 Shekel on Jewschool. Ever.
Good luck staying relevant buddy. I won’t be a pawn in your game.
This thread has been closed.